Emerging from an abusive relationship, Denise wanted her three children to leave that life behind, too. And giving them the resources they need to help them avoid the same path in their own lives was just as important.
Childhood exposure to domestic violence (DV) often has adverse effects on a child’s development and well-being. Children who are exposed to DV are at greater risk of developing attachment disorders and emotional disorders that have long-term impacts on their success in relationships. Exposed children are at increased risk for developing depression and anxiety and often demonstrate behavioral problems like aggression, non-compliance in school, and delinquency. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for a parent escaping family violence to talk to their children about it, or vise versa, especially when the pain is still fresh. Additionally, many parents don’t have the tools on their own to address the negative effects of violence they may already be seeing. Knowing the effects this exposure has on kids, we saw a growing need to help them heal and to limit the effects of the violence on their lives going forward.
That’s why we created Camp PEACE, a Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence program that brings children exposed to domestic violence together for a month of activities that facilitate Peace Education, Action, Compassion and Empathy (PEACE). Based on principles of Peace Education and Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, through Camp PEACE we help children learn alternatives to violence while promoting tolerance, impartiality, affection, self-compassion and compassion for others.
“My kids still talk about it today,” said Denise, whose children attended the camp last year. “The No. 1 thing they got out of it was learning to have compassion for other people — learning how actions affect everyone around you.”
Her children aren’t just talking about the Camp experience, they’re living it, Denise said. Meditation skills help them through tough days, as do breathing techniques and tai chi, an ancient Chinese tradition introduced at the Camp as a way to reduce stress. The children wear their Camp PEACE T-shirts, use the meditation CD and share photographs from the Camp.
“I never thought meditation could have such a positive impact on kids,” Denise said.
Denise credits Women’s Resource Center and the Camp with more than the impact on her children’s lives. For example, volunteers from the Center picked Denise’s children up each day for Camp, giving her not only peace of mind, but more time to focus on her own work and life.
She and her children are looking forward to an extended version of Camp PEACE this year that offers two sessions of five weeks of Camp activities including coping activities and new experiences like farming and other activities outside of their daily life, like tasting goat’s milk. It’s not only good for the three children, it gives Denise free daycare and keeps her children learning and engaged.
“For me, Camp PEACE is knowing that my kids are learning something that I can’t really teach them, such as meditation and farming,” Denise said. “These are areas I don’t know about. It gives me peace to know that they are learning things I never learned as a child.”
About the blogger:
Jean Douglas has served as Executive Director of Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence for more than 15 years. She has become known and recognized in Atlanta as a leader on the subjects of domestic violence and women’s issues. She has served on the Boards of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which envisions a Georgia free of domestic violence, and Georgia’s WIN List, a political action committee dedicated to electing women who advocate for women’s issues, and as a member of the DeKalb County Domestic Violence Task Force.