Psychological impact of terror on children

By Fauzia Sardar Niazi

The act of terrorism at educational institutions is a tragedy which has long term effects as it is psychologically related to emotional well being. Very young children do not understand the reason of such heinous crime. Then there are the teenagers who may understand the reason but do not comprehend the ruthless targeting. The students as well as children who in reality or are exposed to incidents through media need special care and depth of understanding to overcome the trauma and be a part of normal life again.  The sufferers through a period of shock, they need assurance and support. Natural healing process is going to help, but it will take some time.

At this stage the role of educational and child psychologists who are practically involved in teaching and counseling children to cope with traumatic experiences may help. They can understand the mindset of children and by utilizing various techniques minimize negative effects. Children should be provided opportunities to discuss, write or draw what thy feel about the incident.

Own group of friends and age group family members may be of great help. They also need comfort from parents and family members. Children and teenagers may adopt behaviours which may seem ‘Childish’ to adults but they are important for catharthis. Let them cry if they want to. Do not stop them by saying they are grown ups. Parents own groups where they can share the grief of others and discuss how to overcome the psychological trauma may be of significance. Events can be organized to let them share their experiences and views.

After few days the sympathetic attitude may be discarded and children assured that they are capable to take part in everyday activities. There is no need to make them pretend that they are very bold and fearless. They have already shown their courage while facing the traumatic event. Let them go through this phase in a normal way.

Sleep deprivation, enuresis, fear of unknown, eating less, clinging or withdrawn behaviors may be the initial symptoms but they will subside after assurance of being in a protective environment.  Children may be involved in various activities academic and social. Do not allow anyone to label children as having problems of serious nature. Give some time to cope with the trauma rather than jumping to conclusions and making the situation worse for children.

Adults also need to have awareness and support in order to check their attitude. They should not instill fear and over protectiveness. Let the children face the situation step by step normally so that the effects of the trauma do not turn into negative consequences.

Our society is different from other western world. On the tragic event of 9/11, USA asked for help from psychologists all over the world; the reason being that they have a weak family system. They need support of counselors and psychiatrists at every level from home to work place. Psychologists are appointed at educational institutions to look after the welfare of students. On the other hand we have a strong faith which is a binding force. Then we have a joint and extended family system where grandparents close family members, parents and siblings are a great support. They are the best counselors. They may also sometimes need awareness and guidance.

At present media managers do not understand that the presentation of crime and terrorist events through reenactment are not suitable for children and teenagers. The incidents of suicide, harassment, kidnap and other immoral activities are increasing due to such display of situations. Media can play a vital role to counter negative effects by giving relevant information through talk shows or organizing discussion forums. Educational institutions and other related organizations can prepare various posters, leaflets and booklets to give awareness and address the issue. Appointment of psychologists at educational institutions is of importance and is required at this hour of need. They are the ones who can help the teachers, parents and students to understand the problem, develop strategy to overcome it and have the courage to face any situation which may arise.

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