Child soldiers: Stress in children’s bedrooms

5. December 2011
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Children whose parents are deployed in war as soldiers frequently show psychological abnormalities. First and foremost one finds acute stress reactions, but also adaptation syndrome as a result of prolonged stress. This has now been demonstrated in a study.

Children whose parents are involved as soldiers in war frequently show psychological abnormalities. First and foremost one finds acute stress reactions, but also adaptation syndrome as a result of prolonged stress. Depressions and behavioural problems appear in second and third place after that. This is the conclusion arrived at by Alyssa J. Mansfield and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina, USA.

Up to the third generation …

This finding is interesting in view of the current discussions about late/delayed effects of the Second World War. Cologne-based writer Sabine Bode describes in her books “War Children”, “War Grandchildren” and “Post-War Children” how the consequences of war make themselves felt up to the third generation in a family. She depicts by means of information given in many biographies how children can become traumatised, although they themselves have not even seen war. Parents who are occupied in dealing with their own psychological trauma may not adequately be able to address the emotional needs of their children.
In her books, Bode shows how even ‘war grandchildren’ still develop depression and relationship disorders, although the war itself seems almost forgotten. This explanatory model might even accomodate the fact that the number of adult children who turn completely away from their parents seems to be growing. For example, the self-help group verlassene-eltern.de (abandoned parents) is increasing in size steadily. The lament is heard repeatedly: the parents say that they have given everything and have had their children grow up well-protected. The children, however, tell of violence in their upbringing and massive transgressions by their parents. Between parent and child there is silence.

The psychoanalyst Werner Bohleber also describes how trauma can be handed down via the subconscious: Children of traumatised parents can empathise with the subconscious of the parents and intuitively sense repressed horror experiences.

The better the mother’s “mental functioning”, the healthier the child

How dependent the emotions of children are on the “functioning” of the mother in particular was already shown in 2001 by Nathaniel Laor from the University of Tel Aviv. He examined in a follow-up 81 children aged 8 to10 years who had experienced during the Gulf War five years earlier SCUD missile attacks on Israel, in which their houses were destroyed. The authors showed that mental disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder depended heavily on family cohesion and on the psychological functioning of the mother. The more the mother was emotionally available for the children, the greater the post-traumatic stress had declined.

The results make it clear to what extent the experiences and emotions of the parents influence the mental health of children. Professionals who deal with trauma patients should also always take a look at the children.

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