Sometimes I'm amazed by the frightening and cruel incidents kids and teens discuss in the small groups I run at a domestic violence shelter. I'm not that surprised by the incidents themselves or by the way the kids resolve problems.
All these kids have either lived in a home with domestic violence before coming to the shelter or are currently living in one and come to the shelter once a week for group (as do their mothers).
Sometimes older kids reveal their own use of violence at home or elsewhere. Sometimes little kids complain about older sibs hitting, humiliating, or yelling at them. Most readily describe violence as "bad," "stupid," "crazy," etc. and yet...
In the beginning, most of these kids say what they think they should say when I ask for options they might use other than violence when solving problems. Some just shrug. They don't seem to know alternative reactions to violence, frustration or anger other than fighting back, defending oneself, getting revenge, etc.
So we talk about their choices for resolving conflicts, especially when they grow up. In a couple weeks,they might repeat back appropriate options I have previously mentioned. During snack or playtime, however--especially outside where there's more freedom and less supervision, they may continue to use violence.
Pulling away from or trying to avoid a potentially violent incident at the shelter or asking for help is a good start and a sign the child is trying to change. Being kind to a frustrating younger child is a good sign. Being more honest and realisitic about the abuser and Mom during group is huge.
Why? Because it is not easy to identify how you and the abuser, or you and Mom, are the same. It's even harder sometimes to figure out how you are different or to admit that you're afraid you're not different.
The kids who try to move toward non-violence are not only courageous, but become incredible models for others who don't know what or whom to believe. And that might include their moms.
I don't take credit for this. I am only the guide. The children themselves must lead.