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By Anita Hamilton Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2010

Popular wisdom has long held that young children survive traumatic events better than adults do, in part because they suffer less. Being too young to understand fully the nature of what’s happening around them — during war or natural disaster, for instance — they should bounce back with much more resilience.

But new research on child survivors of Hurricane Katrina and witnesses of the 9/11 terrorist attacks suggests otherwise. “There is increasing evidence that kids know what is going on if they are directly exposed and see something like planes crashing into the [World Trade Center] towers,” says child psychologist Claude Chemtob of New York University, lead author of one of several new papers on children and disaster, published in a special section of the July and August issue of Child Development. (See the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009.)

Together, the new studies show that young children and teens not only exhibit symptoms of posttraumatic stress and depression that are similar to those of adults, but that they may react more strongly to trauma because adults do. They also show that younger children and girls are more likely to develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than boys and older kids.

In the first two studies, researchers analyzed the long-term effects on children and their parents of the 9/11 attacks. In one analysis, led by Chemtob, researchers followed 116 preschool children and their mothers in Lower Manhattan who had been directly exposed to the World Trade Center attacks. Interviews were conducted with the mothers and with the children’s preschool teachers nearly three years after 9/11. (See pictures of the World Trade Center’s destruction.)

Chemtob found that compared with children whose mothers did not report symptoms of PTSD or depression, those whose mothers were affected were three times more likely to be emotionally reactive — being clingy and quick to become upset — and seven times more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior three years after the traumatic events. “Kids are very attuned to their moms because moms send cues to their kids about what’s safe and what’s not. If Mom is less available and more focused on the fearful aspects of life, then she is not helping,” Chemtob says. (Comment on this story.)

Read More …  http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2004902,00.html?xid=rss-topstories



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