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Effects of trauma on children

03 July 2014, 13:57 Evans Munga

Everyday, children are exposed to acts of violence that leave them traumatised. The massacre that just happened in Mpeketoni, Garissa and tribal clashes in Baringo and other parts of the country recently left many children traumatised. Such experiences, if not handled by professional counselors, with frequent therapeutic sessions, might damage their daily lives, general esteem and behavior.

Their trend of behavior tend to change with developmental stages and such negative past experiences might affect the way they relate with the society.
A child’s response to a distressing or frightening experience will depend on a wide range of factors including their age, stage of development and personality, and the impact of the crisis on their parents or significant others. Your child may not react in the ways you expect.

Trauma reactions may include:

•    Withdrawal – such as loss of interest in activities, loss of confidence, not interested to talk or regressing to more ‘babyish’ behavior.
•    Preoccupation – needing to relive the experience, for example, through repetitive play or drawings. The child may be overly concerned about the possibility of future events or have nightmares.
•    Anxiety – such as problems with concentrating or paying attention, clingy behavior, separation anxiety, sleep problems and irritable behavior.
•    Physical symptoms – such as headaches and stomach aches.

Allow for a delayed reaction. Some children seem to cope well at first, but can experience reactions to the stress days, weeks or even months later.

Terminally ill parents spend most of their time in bed or thinking about their illness and therefore they are unable to attend to the needs of their children. Those who are experiencing the trauma themselves are unaware of the emotional needs of the child and therefore tend to neglect this aspect, yet those who are planning divorce use their children as baits to blackmail and/or get back to their partners hence altering their relationship with the child.

Children become the agents through which their parents use to communicate with each other.
Some parents turn to their children for comfort, sharing with them their intense feelings, and this can be overwhelming to a young child who feels like they have to mature quickly so they can support their parents.

Parental Loss - divorce often results in the loss of a parent for the children and with this loss, children also lose the knowledge, skills and resources (emotional, financial, etc.) of that parent.

Exposure to Inter-parent conflict - conflict is frequently part of families and especially in families that have undergone divorce. The degree to which children are exposed to conflict may have substantial effects on children's well-being.

The trauma of sexual abuse – various factors affect the degree of trauma, such as:
1.    Type of abuse - Incest is more traumatic than stranger defilement
2.    Degree of violence used - The presence of threats also produce anxiety and fear in the child. One doesn't have to verbally threaten the child for them to feel threatened.
3.    Identity of the offender- If a molester is known to the victim, it is worse because of feelings of betrayal. The child who is abused outside the home is able to project the experience outside the home and turn to the family for protection or reassurance.
4.    The duration of abuse -   Long-term abuse causes more trauma. If it goes on over a period of time, the child’s sense of vulnerability can increase and such a child is more likely to use defense mechanisms.
5.    Extend of abuse - The more intrusive the abuse, the more traumatic e.g. sodomy, intercourse or oral copulation.
6.    Age when abuse started - If it started when the child was young, it is more traumatic. This is because uncontrollable terrifying experiences may have their most profound effects when their central nervous system and cognitive functions have not yet fully matured.
7.    Reaction of others to disclosure of abuse - The child’s recovery is greatly enhanced by a parent who believes the child and is not accusatory but is unequivocally supportive and reassuring.
8.    The personality of the child - If the child has good psychological health prior to the abuse, they are in a better position to resist the damaging effects of the abuse.
9.    The emotional climate of the child’s family - A family can have dysfunctional patterns that create problems in the recovery process e.g. chemical dependence.
10.    The guilt the child feels -  If the child experiences some sexual pleasure during the abuse, they may feel somehow responsible for causing the abuse.

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