How addressing trauma in kids can prevent generational violence

Just seeing or hearing abuse can traumatize kids, cause need for counseling

SAN ANTONIO – Trauma comes in many forms, especially during childhood.

Last week’s alleged domestic violence attack on a mother and her children shows an extreme example. However, kids can get help for any level of trauma, and the earlier, the better.

“My kids are so brave. They are such good kids,” 28-year-old mother Mariah Clare said in tears.

From her hospital bed, Mariah recounted to KSAT the attack that left her with six gunshot wounds, her 11-month-old dead, and her 2-year-old in the ICU.

The alleged attacker is her ex-husband, Stephen Clare, who is booked on two aggravated assault charges and one count of capital murder of a person under the age of 10.

Mariah’s 8- and 11-year-old sons used quick thinking to save themselves during the attack on April 10.

“They just had a drill the week before at school, talking about what happens if there’s an active shooter. My son used a plunger, broke the window of the bathroom, and escaped. And my oldest son hid in my dad’s room,” she said.

Now, those brave boys will have to peel back layers of trauma.

“One of the issues that the kids have is they feel guilty because they’re not able to protect mom or dad. Sometimes they feel like it’s their fault,” said licensed professional counselor Nathan Hanson.

Hanson is the Victim Empower Counseling Program coordinator at the Bexar County Family Justice Center. The center is a hub where domestic violence victims can get counseling, casework, legal help, and more.

Hanson counsels kids as young as 6 and wants people to know that abuse is not just physical. It’s also emotional and verbal.

Even if it’s not directed at the kids, it still causes trauma.

RELATED: Mother who survived attack wants public to know about progression of domestic violence

“As a male child, if there’s a male abuser in the home, he’s going to think that’s what love is. That’s how we treat people. We put our hands on people. When we disagree with them, we raise our voice to them. We talked down to them,” Hanson said. “Then, as a female child, she’s going to go out and look for that and a partner when she gets older.”

He suggests counseling kids early so they can release anxiety and learn about healthy relationships.

“We may talk about things that they’re completely uncomfortable talking about with mom or dad, but we still give them that space to communicate and talk about those things so that they feel validated and they can be heard,” Hanson said.

Individual counseling usually happens in smaller offices, but there are group sessions in bigger rooms at the Bexar County Family Justice Center so the kids can relate to each other and know they’re not alone.

There are counseling sessions for both adults and kids from across South Texas, and they’re free.

The sessions are free because they’re crucial, carrying the ability to change entire generations.

“If we don’t address this now, if we don’t end this now and we let them know that this is an acceptable behavior, then this problem is going to continue to go on,” Hanson said.

He encourages anyone interacting with kids to notice if the child is anxious, stressed, scared, or acting out.

“Anything that mom or dad, grandma, grandpa noticed when it comes to their child’s behavior, even the school counselor can make a recommendation that they reach out to us and come to us for help,” Hanson said.

He said the Family Justice Center has a lot of programming for kids, including their Kids Camp each year at the DoSeum. They work with a list of nonprofits to provide presents and events for kids during back-to-school and Christmas.

“We partner with the Family Violence Prevention Services. We partner with United Way. We partner with Child Protective Services, all the law enforcement organizations,” Hanson said.

He wants caregivers to know help is there if they need it.

“You just have to ask for it, and I understand asking for help is one of the hardest things that people go through. But we’re here to help,” he said.

Mariah said she plans to get her boys counseling help, so they can heal and break any possible cycle of domestic violence.

If you or someone you know is struggling with domestic abuse, there is a long list of resources on the KSAT Domestic Violence page.

You can reach the Bexar County Family Justice Center at (210) 631-0100 or on their website.

The Family Violence Prevention Services which runs the shelter and also offers wrap-around services can be reached at (210) 733-8810 or on their website.

The national Domestic Violence Hotline number is (800) 799-7233 and they have people available to chat live on their website.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.