I've done small groups with kids and teens for years. I like to use therapeutic toys for kids 3-12 after the discussion/storytelling part of group. These toys include anything that will bring up, let out, or get over pent-up feelings. I usually have a doll house, soldiers, firemen, an "equipped" doctor's bag, small sharks or dinosaurs, drawing paper and markers. Ordinary games like Candy Land, checkers, dominos, Connect Four, etc. are important, too. Many kids need to learn to win and lose graciously, an example not often set by a batterer.
The most important toy is probably the doll house. It's called the "family house" at the shelter so that boys know they can play with it. And they do because I demand confidentiality of the kids--they can't tell what any other child says or does, though they can tell their moms anything they or I say or do. Kids seem to respect these rules, especially siblings.
The result is that boys do use the doll house and tend to use it more intensely and creatively than girls.
Sometimes they use the family dolls (all ages) to play out conflicts between parents or kids. More often, they bring in a "monster," soldiers, or firemen and toss out most of the furniture.
This type of drama is not unusual. I saw it many times as a school social worker. What is unusual is what happens when the boys playing with the" family house" come from a home with domestic violence. The house doesn't become an "Army base" as it often did in school with "battles occuring mostly outside the house.
At the shelter, boys have the soldiers fight with each other inside the house. Battles with deaths occur inside the house. Mothers get thrown downstairs. Kids get thrown outside. The dog hides.
So there's the difference. The war and the battle is in the family and it is deadly and dangerous.
The good news? If the child is in group long enough and continues the battle long enough, it subsides. It moves outside. Some furniture returns. A couple family members watch television or take a nap.
The question is, can we find hope in this change? Is it too little, too late?
I'll never know. I can only pray they learn enough, feel something that makes them want to live differently when they grow up.
Any additional prayers for these boys will be welcome. You never know.