Pediatrician's Role Important In Minimizing and Preventing The Effects of Disaster and Terrorism on Children

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Pediatricians can play an important role in assisting parents and community leaders in protecting children from the long-term effects of disaster and terrorism, according to a new AAP clinical report, "Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for Pediatricians."

The report does not address the chronic exposure to human-made violence, injury, destruction and death that occur during war.

According to the report, a child's response to a disaster is influenced greatly by the nature of the disaster, the child's level of exposure to it, the extent to which the child and those around him are personally affected, and each child's characteristics, including age and state of development. Boys tend to display more violent and aggressive behaviors following a disaster, while girls show more internal symptoms such as anxiety and mood changes.

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Parents and caregivers can significantly impact and exacerbate the child's psychological response to the disaster, according to the report. An estimated 25 percent of adults experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms following an acute traumatic event. This stress may inhibit adults from properly recognizing or addressing a child's fears and needs.

In addition to playing an integral role in school and community disaster preparations and disaster response, pediatricians may be the first to recognize children and adolescents with anxiety, fear, and depression following a disaster. The report suggests that pediatricians initiate discussions with these children on their thoughts regarding the recent disaster.

"Not asking a child what he or she thinks risks suggesting that the disaster is so bad that it cannot be talked about or managed," according to the report.

Pediatricians can help families understand what type of behavior to expect from their child after a disaster, and how parent's behavior can impact a child psychological stability. Pediatricians should encourage families to limit watching of television coverage on the disaster.

Children who are psychologically distressed, or showing signs of PTSD, should immediately be referred to appropriate mental health services. - Chicago

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