• Adult Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
  • Runaway & Homeless Youth Toolkit
  • Prevent Intimate Partner Violence
  • Violence Against Women Resource Library
  • Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium
  • Domestic Violence Awareness Project
  • National Resource Center on Domestic Violence


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An Online Resource Library on Gender-Based Violence.

Issues related to Children and Parenting

As indicated earlier, another common source of conflict in shelter arises around children, especially different approaches to parenting and expectations of parents. The Shelter Study found that, child discipline issues included problems with other residents' child monitoring. As one [shelter resident] complained, "Some parents left other parents to discipline and monitor their kids." Another observed the following:

"At times I felt there [was] little or no discipline. I felt some of the children in this home at times were totally out of control with parents taking advantage of everything good that this home represents and also so much disrespect to the other people and staff. I love children and do understand they are just that…children. As far as I am concerned there is no excuse for certain parents."

Others felt there was a lack of services that would allow for child monitoring: "I cannot do chores and watch my children at the same time" (Lyon et al., 2008, p. 87).

Domestic violence shelters quite commonly prohibit physical discipline or the use of corporal punishment in the shelter. At the same time, there is an expectation that children will play together, share toys and games, behave and interact positively, attend school and stay focused on their studies, and learn new ways of coping and being. Shelter Study participants often commented on these restrictive rules on discipline—particularly the common shelter prohibition against corporal punishment. One commented that "my children wanted to run over me because they knew they couldn't be spanked." Another wrote that "he is my child and I should be able to spank if I want." Only 66% percent of these problems were resolved (Lyon et al., 2008, p. 87).

"Time-out" or "cool-down periods" are techniques often offered as alternatives to corporal punishment. However, both may be unfamiliar to both mother and child, and may not be culturally appropriate for a given family. "Time-out" is a discipline technique based largely on a white, middle class mindset, which is often represented by those in positions of power at domestic violence programs. However, "time-out" in a culture that does not value time by a clock might seem a foreign concept. Or within communities where discipline is typically stricter, aggressive, and very active, use of "time-outs" may be viewed as lax, passive, and ineffective. Sometimes, as indicated by Shelter Study participant comments above, when children realize that physical discipline cannot be used, they may actively test this new boundary with their parent, with other adult residents, and with staff.

Within the shelter environment, children of different ages may disclose different degrees of exposure to domestic violence or even child abuse and will demonstrate varying levels of post-traumatic stress along with a wide range of coping styles, including being hyper-vigilant, or "acting out". Commenting on this reality, lifelong advocate, researcher, and author Susan Schechter observed, "[w]ithin shelters, conflicts between women can come out through their children. Some children intimidate their peers and others arrive enraged. Racist comments become a way for children to cope with terrors about their new environment" (Schechter, 1982, p. 90). In response, some shelters develop special programming that focuses on the adjustment of children to shelter, and processing their fears and concerns seems to alleviate some of the issues. It takes time for both the mother and children to adjust to being away from the abuser and the environment created by the climate of violence in the home.