In Los Angeles, children witness 10-20% of homicides. At least one third of American children and teens have witnessed domestic violence between their parents, and most have witnessed multiple occasions of violence.
The presence of violence among children is a growing concern, particularly with the frequency of school shootings across America. Most children and teens that witness violence will experience emotional or psychological symptoms. Those symptoms can affect a child’s ability to learn, focus, and concentrate in school. Children and teens that witness violence can be more aggressive and become violent themselves. Also, the fear associated with experiencing violence thwarts a child’s ability to explore the world and causes them to feel unsafe in following their curiosity.
In addition to feeling psychological and emotional symptoms, children and teens that witness violence may suffer from physiological effects as well. This can include disruption to their normal cortisol production pattern, which can have an effect on physical health. During a violent event, including just witnessing one, the body produces increased blood sugar levels to provide extra energyi for the muscles. There is an increase in cortisol that counters the pain and inflammation in the body, if there is any. Blood pressure rises. Blood is pumped away from the extremities of the body towards major muscles in order to provide them with extra strength. And there is an increased amount of cortisol to facilitate ignoring physical pain in the body, if there is any. The long-term effect is an impaired production of cortisol in everyday life, and children may become hyper sensitive to stimuli.
The typical symptoms of a child who has experienced a violent event and who has not sufficiently healed from that experience can include anxiety, extreme emotional fluctuation, flashbacks, loneliness, anger, irritability, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts. For parents who are seeing these symptoms in their children, the following are ways to heal the effects of violence.
- Keep your child away from violent images. Violence is readily seen on the television, movies, and in video games. After experiencing violence, more might only add to the psychological and emotional wounding of your child. Keep violent images at bay, at least while your child heals. Repeated witnessing of violence can cause a worsening of anxiety, feeling a constant high level of alert and even paranoia in your child.
- Talk to your child about his or her experiences. If you can facilitate a safe discussion with your child about the violence that he or she witnessed, your child might open up about the experience. In this way, a conversation could be a means for healing from the event.
- Take your child to a therapist. However, if your child is having a hard time talking about the violence, therapy might be a better means to have a conversation about it. Your child can either meet with a therapist alone or with the two of you together. Furthermore, a therapist will be able to determine whether your child is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The inability to manage emotions, a typical symptom of PTSD, can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as drug use, drinking, cutting, aggression, and other forms of risky behavior. It can be challenging to manage feelings when they seem frightening or overwhelming. They might be accompanied by fear, helplessness, and powerlessness. These emotions might also lead to shutting down.
The above suggestions are those parents can use when violence has had an impact on a child.