Non-Flash version

Hans: Effects of Parents' Reactions

Hans is 5 years old. When on vacation with his family one night, his parent’s cottage caught fire. The fire spread slowly and all managed to escape unhurt. Several minutes after escaping, Hans’ parents collapsed and began to sob uncontrollably.

Victim’s response and symptoms

The intensity of the blaze made a strong impression on Hans. He was also just as shocked to see his distraught parents crying so intensely. Since the fire, Hans has heard his parents mention with tears in their eyes, how they could have all died.

Hans seems unsettled since the fire and awe-stricken by what has happened. He constantly replays the incident with his teddy bears, making them escape from their pretend house. He also repeatedly draws the same image of a house on fire with him and his family outside crying. His parents hate this behaviour, which vividly reminds them of the scene and gets them worked up.

Hans now has a fear of fire. He cannot even stand his father lighting a candle, which makes him scream. Hans wets the bed every night and has nightmares. He can no longer sleep alone and wants to sleep with his parents.

Hans used to do well at school, but he can no longer concentrate on his school work and is disruptive in class.

The psychologist’s observations

Natural or accidental disasters such as the one that Hans has experienced, are relatively common. The decision to include this story (which references a child’s perspective of this type of event) was made in order to demonstrate how the parents’ reactions may instigate problems.

Traumatic event and peritraumatic response

Hans’ fear grew when he heard his parents say that they could have died in the fire; the house fire then became a traumatic event. Young children are particularly influenced by the behaviour of their parents. It would be wrong, however, to hide the truth from them.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Since the accident, Hans has exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress:

  • Nightmares: Hans relives the traumatic scene involuntarily through his nightmares.
  • Repetitive behaviour: It is common to see children repeatedly replay traumatic scenes. This can be carried out through drawings, stories, or games.
  • Disturbed sleep: As with other children who exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress, Hans has problems falling asleep at night.

Related symptoms

  • Regressive behaviour: Children can go through a regressive phase in their development. This can be seen in: bedwetting; not wanting to sleep alone or sleep with the light off; or in by demanding constant attention from their parents.
  • Phobic tendencies: Hans has a phobia of fire. Seeing fire, even in a safe environment, reminds him of the original traumatic scene and causes him intense feelings of anxiety, resembling a phobia.
  • Problem behaviour: Hans can no longer concentrate on his work or engage in activities at school. He no longer cares about his grades, which are falling. He shows signs of psychomotor agitation. Other children who have experienced a traumatic event may, on the other hand, display depressive behaviour.

Last updated: 1/1/2010 | © info-trauma 2009