Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Expert says children need to feel safe to cope with traumatic experiences

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© UNICEF/HQ04-0595/Davidov
This young girl and woman are relatives of hostages who lost their lives during the Beslan school siege.

NEW YORK, 24 September 2004 – It is a shocking and dismaying fact that children have been, and are being, directly targeted in situations of armed conflict – witness the terrible recent school siege in Beslan, Russia. In other crisis situations, from Darfur to Haiti, children endure or see traumatic situations.

Children who live through horrific experiences need support in order to cope with the consequences. Child psychologist Dr. Nancy Baron believes that love and support play an even greater role in the healing process than has generally been recognized by trained professionals.

“The most important thing for a child is to feel safe and secure. If that has been taken away from the child, it is up to the parents and adults to bring them back to being children again,” says Dr. Baron.

Children will best be able to recover from traumatic experiences if they have the love and support of people around them. Parents and adults need to help children manage how they feel and express their feelings when they want to. “Love and support, that’s what is going to help children the most,” emphasizes Dr. Baron.

Dr. Baron stresses the importance of communication. Parents need to help their children feel that it is safe to share what they want, when they want to. Knowing that open communication is available strengthens a child’s sense of security.

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© UNICEF/HQ04-0623/Pirozzi
Hetag Khusaev (left), 13, and his sister, Liana Khusaeva, 11, were wounded during the Beslan school siege. They are being treated in a children’s hospital in Vladikavkaz, Russia.

Parents need to take the initiative. Some children might not know how to verbalize their feelings of being unsafe, or might hesitate to do so. Whether or not children mention their fears, parents should ask about them.

“We cannot guarantee that bad things will not happen to us, to our children or to the world around us. However, being proactive through learning, thinking, talking and planning will promote family intimacy and maximize our capacity for security,” says Dr. Baron.

It is essential to educate children about world issues. Parents also need to teach their children to respect differences in culture while understanding the values of compromise and, most importantly, peaceful coexistence.

 “Children who suffer from terrible events, if they are cared for and loved, don’t become mentally ill. They don’t become psychologically scared,” says Dr. Baron. “It has effects, however, on their social world. We have seen changes in social attitudes and inter-relations more than anything else.”

“People are incredibly resilient. We have seen situations around the world that are horrific, and we have watched children and adults managing to cope. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect them. However, the consequences are not necessarily severe mental illness. What we have found is that in terrible situations, the parents will suddenly become very strong and loving towards their children. That’s just what the children need,” says Dr. Baron.


 

 

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24 September 2004: Child psychologist Dr. Nancy Baron discusses how best to help children recover from traumatic experiences.

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An article by Child psychologist Dr. Nancy Baron: "Helping children feel safe in this time of global terrorism"
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