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Search “domestic violence” in the book section of Amazon.com and you’ll find more than 40,000 options to add to your reading list. Not surprisingly, most are aimed at adults, even though more than 15 million children in the U.S. live in a household in which partner violence has occurred at least once in the last year.
While definitely not a serene bedtime story, most advocates agree domestic violence is still a subject that even young kids should be educated about. That’s why several authors think picture books are a good place to start.
Anger is Okay, Violence is NOT
Author Julie Federico authored Anger is Okay, Violence is NOT after spending 14 years as a middle school counselor and realizing that, while there were a few books to help tweens and teens understand violence, there wasn’t much in the way of books for little ones.
“Domestic violence is built on silence,” says Federico, and fear is a barrier for all ages, kids and adults, that prevents them from opening up about abuse, she adds.
But, “if you start talking about it, it kind of starts to dissipate.” She wants to see domestic violence education, including how to recognize domestic violence and speak out about it, to be commonplace, just as much as teaching kids about the importance of seatbelts.
Federico is also a survivor herself, enduring a nine-year marriage to an emotionally abusive man. She admits she didn’t talk about it much with her two children, the oldest of which was just 3 when she left her abuser, until several years ago. Today, they’re 10 and 14.
“It dawned on me one day that I wasn’t validating their reality, so I started calling it what it was. I worry about them because they’ve seen a lot. I worry about them picking boyfriends and spouses. Now, we talk a lot about it. I tell them, ‘You want to be dating someone who is more respectful than this.’”
Her book is not exclusively centered on domestic violence. “There’s a message here for all toddlers struggling with anger, or tantrums even. The book features sea creatures, like fish and turtles, getting angry at one another. On one page, a turtle is about to throw a starfish at another fish. The book asks, “Is it OK to throw something when you are angry?” ultimately offering other solutions, like painting a picture or playing soccer, even crying, when you’re mad. It emphasizes that anger should not hurt others and, if you’re being harmed by others, tell a trusted adult.
The Day My Daddy Lost His Temper
Carol Santana McCleary is a licensed clinical psychologist who wrote The Day My Daddy Lost His Temper in 2014. Written from the perspective of a young girl named Laura, and illustrated with drawings that look like a child’s artwork, McCleary’s book walks through what happens in a home where domestic violence is impending.
“Specifically, the book is meant to allow the child to see his or her own experiences and feelings reflected in the story,” says McCleary. “In doing so, it validates the readers’ experiences, and reduces feelings of shame and isolation.” She says it also can help a child verbalize their own feelings and experiences.
“Unfortunately, domestic violence continues to be a taboo topic in our society and we could be doing a lot more to help kids recognize and understand it. In fact, I think all of us, as a community, could and should be doing more.”
McCleary says she wishes school counselors and pediatricians would implement domestic violence screenings during regular check-ups. “Sometimes a simple question, like ‘Does someone in your family ever get really mad at someone else?’ can start a very important conversation.”
Children who experience domestic violence are often left with conflicting emotions, McCleary adds, another reason why opening a dialogue about the trauma is so important. In McCleary’s book, the narrator, Laura, writes, “I learned that it was okay to love my daddy, even if he behaved mean. That it was okay to love someone and not like the behaviors they chose. I learned that sometimes, even good people choose ugly behaviors and make mistakes.”
For more domestic violence books written for kids and teens, take a look at the Recommended Books section of DomesticShelters.org.
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