The holiday season can be especially challenging for women and children who have experienced domestic violence. In custody agreements where dad has regular visitations, he may have extended visitations during winter and summer holidays. For these visits, moms may want to talk to their children about safety planning.

Each situation is unique and therefore, planning may differ between families. Below are some ideas to implement in a safety plan with your child:

  • For immediate emergencies where the child feels that they are in danger, review ways they can seek help.
    • Roleplay calling 911 with your child- have them practice speaking to the operator, stating their name, what the emergency is, and their address. If they can’t remember the address, see if they can remember cross streets. Let them know that the operator will want them to stay on the phone, so they shouldn’t hang up unless the operator tells them to.
    • Talk to your child about what constitutes a call to 911. Additionally, teach them how to call 911 on a phone when it’s locked (most cell phones allow for this).
    • Identify any safe neighbors, if applicable. Roleplay with your child how they would communicate to a neighbor if they were to go to that neighbor’s house.
    • Identify whether there are police stations, fire stations, or hospitals near enough for the child to safely walk to if the child cannot obtain a phone to call for help, and no safe neighbor is available.
  • Safety plan with siblings
    • Help children create “safe words” to utilize when they believe it would be good to stay in a room away from dad.
  • If you have regular phone calls with your child, come up with a code word for your child to say if they are scared, or feel they are in danger.
  • Consider, if safe, providing your child with their own cell phone in case of emergency.
  • Discuss signs of escalation with your child, to help identify when it may be a good idea to go to a safe place within dad’s home.
  • Rehearse both your and dad’s phone numbers and addresses.
  • Reassure your child that it’s ok if they must “play along” and pretend to be mean to you on the phone in front of dad. Reassure them you understand and won’t be mad or upset if they have to do that.
  • Discuss characteristics of safe people, in a general way, if your child is aligned with their dad. Discuss what they can do in general emergency situations, to better prepare them for the visit.

For children ages 6 and up who have extended visits with dad around summer and winter holidays, we offer a Visitation Camp at Genesis, where we work on physical and emotional safety planning, feelings identification and expression, age-appropriate education on domestic violence, and attachment activities for you and your children. Let your therapist at Genesis know if you are interested in learning more about Visitation Camp.

This blog post was written by Genesis Women’s Shelter Counselor Kate Borkowski.