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Seeing Violence Can Affect Kids More Than Adults Realize

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Shahinfar believes this may be because parents are unaware of their children's exposure to violence -- for instance, if the child spends part of his day in child care -- or because the parents may repress such information.

"We need to be sensitive to the idea that kids may not perceive violence in the same way as adults do," Shahinfar tells WebMD. "We need to let kids tell us what has been traumatic for them and to help them work through those feelings."

The investigators realized that not all children were able to give accurate answers when questioned, and some often mixed fantasy with reality. However, close to half of the children were thought to have shown a high level of understanding.

"It's time to move beyond saying that young children are not affected by witnessing violence. In fact, they are affected by witnessing violence and it can impact them in very significant ways," Joy Osofsky PhD, tells WebMD. Osofsky, a professor of public health, psychiatry, and pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, reviewed the study for WebMD.

She says that both the public and physicians must recognize that witnessing violence is a problem and that something can be done.

Osofsky, who works with a program that educates New Orleans police officers on how to handle children confronted with violence, says that when dealing with traumatized preschoolers, the traumatized family must be dealt with as well.

Shahinfar says that children who are exposed to violence tend do much worse if parents are unavailable to them afterward.

"Parents must remember they are the first resource for their child," Shahinfar says. "For a child to function well in a dangerous and difficult society, parents need to be functioning well."

 

Vital Information:

  • In a study of preschoolers enrolled in a Head Start program, three-fourths reported witnessing or being a victim of at least one violent incident.
  • Kids who witnessed violence tended to internalize their problems and were depressed, anxious, and withdrawn, while those who were victims of violence externalized their problems with aggressive and disruptive behavior.
  • One researcher says that interventions should be offered at an early age and that the age of those who are considered at risk should be lowered.
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