Children who are subjected to disturbing images replayed as part of the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks risk being traumatised, according to an expert from The Australian National University.
Chair of the Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network at ANU Professor Beverley Raphael said the repeated pictures of falling bodies and collapsing towers had stayed with us all but research suggested that children were particularly affected.
“Ten years on from 9/11, the impacts of such terrorist attacks have continued. Children are vulnerable in any disaster and there is increasing evidence that psychological trauma in infancy or childhood can have profound effects on mental health, physical health and development,” she said.
“There is clear evidence of the courage and resilience with which people have responded in these circumstances, but there is also evidence of the mental health and other impacts.
“Studies in the early years showed that children who were most closely exposed to the 9/11 attacks developed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and other effects on their mental health.
“Child reactions are also related to the degree of exposure to repeated views of the disaster images with parents’ own experiences and life disruptions also making it difficult for them to manage children’s distress.”
Professor Raphael said that providing care to the children affected had been complex for those involved, despite intense efforts and multiple, high quality initiatives, but there were strategies that families could follow at home.
“It is important for children, adolescents and adults that we are aware of and responsive to the potential needs of children in the face of adversity, particularly experiences that have closely involved them,” she said.
“Research has made clear that cumulative adversity increases risk, so caution about repeated or continued exposure to replaying images of 9/11 with the coming anniversary will be important.
“Remember that the distress that will be evoked again in many of us may also stir children’s distress and this is an opportunity to comfort, and listen to their concerns and experiences. The symbolic language for managing distress in children, “Listen, Protect, Connect”, remains an important basic approach.
“It is important to communicate with children in language relevant to their level of development and the support and reassurance that they may need, and to be prepared to answer their questions.
“9/11 was a global event, but local trauma will be touched by it, including the general fears and uncertainty that terrorism has generated in Australia, as elsewhere.”
For further details about children and trauma visit www.earlytraumagrief.anu.edu.au.