Violence seems to be a problem plaguing many practitioners as evidenced by the number of letters that we have received recently asking for help. The letter chosen for today highlights a problem facing families, schools, parenting prevention groups, and those training prevention group practitioners.
Editorial Question Posed:
Dear Prevention Corner:
I have a second-grade student who lives in a violent household. The parents are not married but live together. There are five children living at home. My student is the middle child. My student “worships” his father. The father has just returned to the household from prison. Drugs are also part of the family scene.
Upon the father’s return from prison, my student has turned violent in the classroom. He was so excited to have his father return but now he is angry and acting out violently toward others. He has been to the school counselor, but it has not helped. What can I do to help this student? I have heard that a prevention group might be helpful. Do you think this would help? If so, what kind of group should I look for?
Wanting to Help
Dear Wanting to Help:
Thank you for sending in your question. Unfortunately your student is not alone, as millions of American children live in homes with exposure to drugs and violence. Additionally, it is common in those situations for children to act out in their other environments, such as in school. As an educator, it can be particularly distressing to watch this happen to one of your students.
Even though you suspect that the problem behavior does not originate within this individual child, and is a result of distressing changes within the family system, it can be difficult to make referrals based on what the child alone has to say about his family. Therefore, you need to find a way to corroborate what is happening and to what extent the child is exposed to violence or is in danger. If you suspect that the child is being abused, you should call the local protective services department and report it. Another way to get some help for the child and the family would be to ask for an evaluation of the child by a school or clinical psychologist. This evaluation should include separate interviews with the parents where questions are asked about conflict tactics used in the home. Hopefully, there will be a recommendation for individual child treatment with parent guidance. This would bring attention and support to the child and his family. Community clinics with sliding fee scales may be an option here. Another option is for the evaluator to call the local domestic violence shelter to inquire whether support or intervention groups are available to those living in the community but not residing in the shelter. These kinds of support groups have been found to be effective in reducing child aggression and in providing support and education to the mother and thus would be ideal for both the child and the mother in this family.
Ultimately, children living in homes with violence are under great stress. Your support and continued interest in this child’s well-being will do a good deal towards helping him and, hopefully, his whole family.
Maria Galano, M.S. and Sandra A. Graham-Bermann Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan