Children Exposed to War/Terrorism

By Brock, Stephen E. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, January/February 2009 | Go to article overview

Children Exposed to War/Terrorism


Brock, Stephen E., National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Summarized by Jennifer DeFago, Predoctoral Intern, Medina City Schools, Medina, OH

Shaw's (2003) article is a review of the literature on children who have been exposed to war and terrorism. Children's reactions to trauma may be similar to adult reactions in some ways, but children are still developing physically, socially, and emotionally. As a result of continuing development, trauma may affect children differently than adults. In turn, the trauma may also affect the development of the child. Although there are a variety of types of war- and terrorism-related traumas, there is some commonality in the psychological responses children experience.

Evidence has suggested that some children may be able to adapt to ongoing exposure to war-related stressors with little distress if there is strong social support and a system of shared beliefs. Children may have coping mechanisms such as family and social support, shared ideology, religion, and a sense of community that may contribute to resiliency from stressors. However, as proximity to the zone of impact and the intensity and lethality of the exposure to war stressors increase, children are more likely to experience significant psychological symptoms. Shaw (2003) notes that the majority of children who experience ongoing exposure to war- related stressors will show psychological symptoms of PTSD. Although some children may experience immediate emotional and behavioral effects of war- related stressors, long-term effects are also possible. Responses to terrorism and bioterrorism can be slightly different than responses to other stressors that accompany war. The response to terrorism is not as related to proximity to the trauma as it is associated with uncertainty, fear, and anxiety regarding the possibility of more terrorist acts.

There are several predictors of PTSD symptoms in children. The exposure- effect relationship states that the number of trauma events, the intensity of the events, and the duration of exposure is more important in determining severe psychological symptoms than the nature of the specific trauma event. …

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