The Long-Term Effects of Mass Trauma on Children

May 24, 2017

A researcher at Iowa State University has been looking into the lasting effects traumatic events can have on children. The results from his study apply to the aftermath of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and terrorist attacks, such as the one this week in Manchester, England.

Carl Weems, chair of human development and family studies at Iowa State University.
Credit Iowa State University news service

The chair of the human development and family studies department at ISU, Carl Weems, says a child’s ability to recover from the emotional toll taken by mass trauma depends on their perceived ability to control the situation. He says it’s important, therefore, for parents and teachers to make sure the child knows a plan is in place if something bad happens.

“And that reassures kids that they and/or their school, their family have the competence, the perceived self-efficacy to deal with those problems should they arise,” he says.

Weems, says parents and teachers should not avoid bad things when they happen, but instead help kids build up their confidence to handle them.

“Actively coping and facing your fears is protective, and the more you feel like you can accomplish things and have a plan, you can deal with difficult situations," he says. "The more resilient you’ll be.”

Weems’ study focused on the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in the Gulf Coast region. He says the results apply to terrorist attacks, such as the one in Manchester, England, this week, as well.