Parents often ask me for resources to help them support their children who are living with an abusive parent. It can be such a difficult topic to explain as there are so many emotions involved.
I have therefore compiled this list, with the help of many of my clients, to offer you some guidance and words on how to best support the child.
It is broken down into age categories for ease but remember that a child’s physical age is not necessarily their emotional age so be mindful of where that child is at in terms of their own understanding.
Children aged 0 – 6
At this age children are learning that their behaviour effects the world around them and these early experiences form a blueprint for how they see their world. They may blame themselves for arguments and will be asking things like “why does mummy hate daddy?” or “what did I do wrong?” Children will also begin to assert themselves in play and this can be aggressive.
Boys can “fall in love” with their mothers and girls with their fathers and so this stages forms a blueprint for relationships and how they view the opposite sex. Abusive parents can distort a child’s view of what the role of a mummy/daddy and man/woman is.
Therefore the books in this list focus on helping children to manage their emotions and understand anger better.
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
Abusive parenting can result in emotions becoming very scary and distorted. The child may witness a parent happy one minute, angry the next with no trigger. They won’t know what changed and so can be confused by not just their own emotions but also their parents.
Many children with abusive parents can also take ownership of their parent’s emotions and express them as their own. Saying “I’m sad” or “I’m scared” but smiling and laughing.
This books helps children to identify what they are feeling on a range of subjects.
How are you feeling today Baby Bear By Jane Evans
Children who grow up in abusive homes often feel they did something wrong to cause the argument. They regularly feel afraid, lonely, angry and tired.
This sensitive, charming storybook is written to help children who have lived with violence at home to begin to explore and name their feelings.
Kit Kitten and the Topsy Turvy Feelings by Jane Evans
Once upon a time there was a little kitten called Kit who lived with a grown-up cat called Kizz Cat. Kit Kitten couldn’t understand why sometimes Kizz Cat seemed sad and faraway and others times was busy and rushing about. Kit Kitten was sometimes cold and confused in this topsy turvy world and needed help to find ways to tell others about the big, medium and small feelings which were stuck inside. Luckily for Kit, Kindly Cat came along. Many children live in homes where things are chaotic and parents or carers are distracted and emotionally unavailable to them.
This storybook, designed for children aged 2 to 6, includes feelings based activities to build a child’s emotional awareness and vocabulary. A helpful tool for use by parents, carers, social workers and other professionals to enable young children to begin to name and talk about their feelings.
Two Homes by Claire Masurel
In this award-winning picture book classic about divorce, Alex has two homes – a home where Daddy lives and a home where Mummy lives. Alex has two front doors, two bedrooms and two very different favourite chairs. He has a toothbrush at Mummy’s and a toothbrush at Daddy’s. But whether Alex is with Mummy or Daddy, one thing stays the same: Alex is loved by them both – always.
This gently reassuring story focuses on what is gained rather than what is lost when parents divorce, while the sensitive illustrations, depicting two unique homes in all their small details, firmly establish Alex’s place in both of them. Two Homes will help children – and parents – embrace even the most difficult of changes with an open and optimistic heart.
Although not specifically centred upon parental mental health, divorce is an unsettling time for both parents and children and so this book may help ease the worry of how to explain what is happening to a child.
Grow Happy by Jon Lasser
“My name is Kiko. I’m a gardener. I grow happy. Let me show you how.” Kiko shows the reader how she grows happiness: by making good choices, taking care of her body and mind, paying attention to her feelings, problem solving, and spending time with family and friends. Kids will learn that they can play a pivotal role in creating their own happiness, just like Kiko. A Note to Parents and Other Caregivers provides more strategies for helping children learn how to grow happiness. Age range 4-8.
Anger is Okay, Violence is Not by Julie K Federico
Anger is OKAY Violence is NOT belongs on the desk of every child protective services case worker. This book has a hidden message for children who are living with violence and struggling with a domestic violence definition. This book is also a great resource for toddler’s struggling with temper tantrums. The book offers replacement behaviors children can do instead of getting angry. Anger is OKAY Violence is NOT teaches children about fish, feelings, families and anger control.
A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret Holmes
Sherman Smith saw the most terrible thing happen. At first he tried to forget about it, but soon something inside him started to bother him. He felt nervous for no reason. Sometimes his stomach hurt. He had bad dreams. And he started to feel angry and do mean things, which got him in trouble. Then he met Ms. Maple, who helped him talk about the terrible thing that he had tried to forget. Now Sherman is feeling much better.
This gently told and tenderly illustrated story is for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode, including physical abuse, school or gang violence, accidents, homicide, suicide, and natural disasters such as floods or fire. An afterword written for parents and other caregivers offers extensive suggestions for helping traumatized children, including a list of other sources that focus on specific events.
Children aged 7 – 13 years
At this age, children are asking more questions and starting to understand right from wrong. This can be especially hard when they are being taught bullying and violence is wrong but witness this at home. It can be really difficult for them to process and they will struggle with their own identity as well as feeling alienated from others. They will begin to identify with their own gender and so can align themselves with the abusive parent of the same sex. They are also learning consequences and to push boundaries. Abusive parents can either have to strict or too lapse boundaries and so children struggle to feel safe. This can lead to them withdrawing or lashing out.
The books in this age bracket are therefore focused on developing their identity and managing behaviours.
Lizzy Lives In An Angry House: Learning to Thrive In the Midst of an Angry Environment by Karen Addison MSPH
Karen Addison, educator, author and speaker, has witnessed and experienced the devastating effects of emotional and verbal abuse. Many have not addressed this form of destruction in relationships because it is difficult to talk about and difficult to understand. Often people don’t realize they are in emotionally destructive relationships, and this is especially true of children. If they are living in a home where a parent is “scary angry” and emotionally destructive, chances are the other parent is struggling to cope with that person, as well as the negative dynamics in the home. With wisdom and practical experience, Addison gives readers young and old alike an empathetic approach to recognising emotionally destructive (scary angry) relationships and tools to help those living in “scary angry” homes overcome and break the cycle of abuse
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.
When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.
From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource.
Includes backmatter with discussion questions and resources for further reading.
Angryman by Gro Dahle
There’s someone in the living room.
It is Angryman.
Boj’s father can be very angry and violent. Boj calls this side of his father’s personality “Angryman.” When Angryman comes no one is safe. Until something powerful happens…
Gro Dahle’s astute text and Svein Nyhus’s bold, evocative art capture the full range of emotions that descend upon a small family as they grapple with “Angryman.” With an important message to children who experience the same things as Boj: You are not alone. It’s not your fault. You must tell someone you trust. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Somebody Cares: a Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Neglect by Susan Farber Straus
Somebody Cares explores the feelings and thoughts many kids have when they’ve had to look out for themselves or be alone much of the time. A useful book to read with a caring adult — such as a parent, foster parent, kinship parent, or therapist — Somebody Cares reassures children who have experienced neglect that they are not to blame for what happened in their family, and that they can feel good about themselves for many reasons. It takes time for kids to get used to changes in their family or living situation, even when they are good changes. This book will help kids learn some ways to feel safer, more relaxed, and more confident.
Teenagers are going through their own internal battle with hormone changes as well as having to make some life choices with regards to career. They often regress to toddler behaviour due to this pressure. For children with abusive parents the control between their own family and their friends can cause real confusion and disappointment or anger. They may, due to hormonal issues, start to lash out more and this can terrify them because they recognise themselves in their abusive parent. Equally they may see a passive parent and feel anger towards them for not doing anything. There may also be a physical risk to the child at this age as they talk back.
Children at this age will have a strong sense or morality though and so are more likely to want to speak out to others about the injustice they feel at home and perhaps even run away or move out as soon as they are old enough.
Therefore books for this age group are around managing their own emotions and feeling safe to speak up and gain some understanding about what is happening in their family.
Don’t let your emotions run your life by Sheri van Dijk
Let’s face it: life gives you plenty of reasons to get angry, sad, scared, and frustrated&mdashand those feelings are okay. But sometimes it can feel like your emotions are taking over, spinning out of control with a mind of their own. To make matters worse, these overwhelming emotions might be interfering with school, causing trouble in your relationships, and preventing you from living a happier life.
Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens is a workbook that can help. In this book, you’ll find new ways of managing your feelings so that you’ll be ready to handle anything life sends your way. Based in dialectical behavior therapy, a type of therapy designed to help people who have a hard time handling their intense emotions, this workbook helps you learn the skills you need to ride the ups and downs of life with grace and confidence.
This book offers easy techniques to help you: Stay calm and mindful in difficult situations, Effectively manage out-of-control emotions, Reduce the pain of intense emotions and Get along with family and friends
My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael A. Tompkins, Ph.D., and Katherine A. Martinez, Psy.D
Learn strategies to help you take control of your anxiety. The authors share information about breathing, thinking, facing fears, panic attacks, nutrition, sleep, exercise, medication, and how to tell if and when anxiety is a problem.
The Truth about Love, Dating and Just Being Friends by Chat Eastham
Chad shines some much-needed light on these major issues for teens. Rather than let their feelings navigate them blindly through their tumultuous adolescence, Chad offers clarity, some surprising revelations, and answers to some of their biggest questions: How do I know who to date? When should I start dating? How should I start dating? Is this really love? And, Why do guys I like just want to be friends?
Packed with humor that adds to the sound advice, this book will help teens make better decisions, have healthier relationships, and be more prepared for their futures. Just a few things girls will learn include: Five things you need to know about love; Eight dumb dating things even smart people do; Ten reasons why teens are unhappy; and Ten things happy teens do.
Any teen can live a happier, healthier life: they just need to hear The Truth
Forged By Fire by Sharon M Draper
Will Gerald find the courage to stand up to his stepfather?
When his loving aunt dies, Gerald suddenly is thrust into a new home filled with anger and abuse. A brutal stepfather with a flaming temper and an evil secret makes Gerald miserable, and the only light in his grim life is Angel, his young stepsister. Gerald and Angel grow close as he strives to protect her from Jordan, his abusive stepfather, and from their substance-addicted mother. But Gerald learns, painfully, that his post can’t be extinguished, and that he must be strong enough to face Jordan in a final confrontation, once and for all….
This list is not exhaustive
I have just compiled some that I think resonate with my audience but please do your own research. You know what your child is ready for. Also remember that the ages are not cut off points and so be mindful of your own child’s capacity and choose the ones which best suit by the content, not the age.