Children Who witness Violence
Currently we are living in a world full of profound, accelerating, and sometimes traumatic changes. These changes involve opportunity, tragedy, deliverance, danger, pain, Joy, freedom and its loss. In todays society children are always witnessing community violence and personal violence that impacts their lives forever. Community violence is so pervasive in our lower income urban areas at this time. According to Hill and Jones (1997) seventy five percent of African American children and adolescents have been exposed to community violence.
And more than thirty three percent have been the victims of personal violence. When a child witnesses a murder or sees a dead body his or her life is shattered by the experience. Their perception of the world being filled with safety, kindness, and meanings is now altered. Some began to believe that there life has no meaning, and that they are not safe. They have to deal with this traumatic tragedy on their own.
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When the murder victim is a parent who has been murdered in front of the adolescent, or found by the child the result is devastating. The terror that is experienced is hard for one to imagine.
Research has found that children are severely affected by these events. They now have to deal with the trauma of what they witnessed as well as their own bereavement. After experiencing this great trouncing the child may began to display symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can interfere with their grieving. According to LeShan (1988) the helplessness associated with witnessing the killing of their parent in particular can lead to numbing and emotional construction and attempts to avoid anything that reminds them of the event.
The child may began to experience distressing nightmares about the murder and intrusive images and emories which leave the child stuck with the gruesome last images of their parents death and unable to recollect more pleasant memories. Another common reaction is that the child will attempt to avoid thinking about the trauma that interferes with the grieving process. In order to grieve for a dead loved one it is necessary to recollect it and remember it again and again.
Children mourn differently than adults, and an adolescent’s grief can be easily aborted and replaced by a variety of defensive mechanisms, which can postpone indefinitely the process of mourning. The kid may block out the death replacing it ith something negative or positive. The way in which children grieve extends across developmental stages. Children younger than age seven usually perceive death as separation. They may feel abandoned and scared, and fear being alone or leaving people they love.
Grieving young children may not want to sleep alone at night, or they may refuse to go to day care or school. Children under age seven usually are not able to verbally express their feelings; instead, they tend to act out their feelings through behaviors, such as refusing to obey adults, having temper tantrums, or role- playing their lives in pretend play. Children under the age of two may refuse to talk and be generally irritable. Children between the ages of two and five may develop problems with eating, sleeping, or bed-wetting and using the restroom.
Children between the ages of seven and twelve often perceive death as a threat to their personal satety They tend to tear that they w die as well and may try to protect themselves from death. While some grieving children want to stay close to someone they think can protect them, others withdraw. Some children try to be very brave or behave extremely well; others behave terribly. A grieving child may have problems oncentrating on school work, following directions, and doing daily tasks. Children in this age group need the reassurance that they aren’t somehow responsible for the death they are grieving.
Teens perceive death much like adults do. However, they may express their feelings in dramatic or unexpected ways. For example, they may join a religious group that defines death in a way that calms their feelings. They may try to defy death by participating in dangerous activities, such as reckless driving, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, taking illegal drugs, committing crimes or having nprotected sex. Like adults, preteens and teens are capable of suicidal thoughts when grieving. Current needs or events will interrupt the grieving process. Some adolescents may appear not to have been affected by the event.
Others are unable to be with a painful response for very long before they shift and need to do something else. This does not mean that they do not grieve; it Just means that they may grieve in small increments of time. Are the child may have a delayed reaction that may take days, weeks, or even months to manifest. How parents and other dults react to the child’s disposition makes a difference in how the child recovers from the trauma. Children’s temperaments fluctuate and they are quite different in their ability to cope with stress and daily hassles.
Some are easygoing by nature and adjust easily to events and new situations. Others are thrown off balance by changes in their lives. All children improve in their ability to handle stress if they previously have succeeded in managing challenges and if they feel they have the ability and the emotional support of family and friends. Children who have a clear sense of personal ompetence, and who feel loved and supported, generally do well. However, the stress brought on by this event may actively interfere with ones ability to reminisce or receive the coping assistance that is available to them throughout the grieving process.
Children who are traumatized by the murder or death are typically haunted by intrusive images of the violence, recurring traumatic dreams, and a preoccupation with revenge fantasies. They may withdraw socially, act emotionally constructed, lose interest in their normal activities, and perform poorly in school. According to Richters and Matinez (1993) these children are also a greater risk to perpetrate violence, as they grow older. Sometimes children who witness violence began to believe that the use of violence is Justified and shows that they are stronger and powerful.
They may learn to use violence to attain their wishes, or to identify with the aggressor as a way to solve interpersonal conflict with the adults or with their peers. These children are expressing their feelings outward the wrong way. Children who are exposed to this violence may begin to view the world as a hostile and dangerous place. This mind frame leaves one believing that violence is the only way to protect themselves. These children behave this way because they have been overlooked. Child witnesses to violent crimes are often on the scene when the police respond.
Even though they are there investigators usually over look their presence and their ability to provide pertinent information. When children witness these types of devastating experiences it is vital that they talk about what they saw and their perceptions ot the consequences. Exposure to violence as a victim or witness poses a serious threat to American children. Child victims and witnesses need emotional support from non-offending family members, their caretakers, the school, and the professionals involved in any investigation or civil or criminal case.
They also need age appropriate therapeutic services from mental health professionals who have been trained to deal with violent victimization and traumatized children. Not all children who are exposed to violence develop these symptoms. If they have the right support systems they can overcome these obstacles. Grief is a response to knowledge, what we know has to change, awareness. It is a word used to describe he emotions, cognitive, behavioral, and physical reactions that one experiences following the death ofa loved one.
Grief responses include things such as: emotional numbing, denial, anger, rage, anxiety, fear, sadness, confusion sleep apnea, regression, upset stomach, and loss of appetite. When one grieves he or she often feels isolated or lonely in their grief. When someone who is close to you dies one may distance themselves from others. As the shock of the loss fades there is a tendency for the griever to feel more pain and sadness. The griever will fluctuate between wanting time to themselves and wanting to be social. The length of time in which one grieves varies.
Though the grieving process can be very painful this process cannot and must not be rushed. It is very important for one to be patient with himself or herself as they experience the feelings, and individual reactions to the death. With time and support things normally do get better. However, it is normal for significant dates, holidays, or other reminders to trigger feelings related to the loss. Although grief is a normal process the symptoms should not last longer than six months, if they or interfering with ones daily functioning. Children’s school erformance, and social patterns should be monitored.
Mourning is the formalized process of responding to death. This includes: funerals, memorial services, wakes, etc… these semi- ritualized approaches are very useful in organizing and focusing the grief reaction in the immediate post death period. It is very important to allow children to participate in this process. Mourning is so important because it allows the grieving person to take control over the way in which they handle the trauma. By taking part in these processes the child can recall the lost without focusing on how he death occurred.