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Jan 10, 2013

Healthy Living assists children dealing with crisis

There have been countless stories, in this newscast and other media discussing the events that unfolded on Tuesday in Belize City. The debate on who did it, whether we over-reacted or who is to blame will likely continue to rage on.  The panicked shutdown of Belize City also led to the closure of schools; leaving children with many unanswered questions. Tonight on Healthy living, we sit down with therapist and President of the Mental Health Association, Jennifer Lovell to discuss how children are being affected by the escalating crime.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

On Tuesday, the shutters slammed down, the parents frantically moved in and out of the schools to get their children back into a safe environment and away from whatever unthinkable violent they thought would follow. The entire city seemed to be paralyzed by fear. It is hard enough for us as adults to function under those circumstances but what the children?


Jennifer Lovell, Therapist, President, M.H.A.

“Children rely on adults to give them that wellbeing and safety. So when the adults panic it becomes even more overwhelming for children.”


Children want and need to feel they are safe. It is a part of their healthy development. According to Lovell, the continuous exposure to violence and crime can severely affect our children and not just those living in the immediate areas.


Jennifer Lovell

Jennifer Lovell

“It makes a child desensitize. It makes a child have no empathy. And you know we have to have empathy for us to know that you are another human being with the same feelings and thoughts that I have so I’m going to think twice about harming you. I’m going to think twice about putting a gun in your face and if you notice we are getting younger and younger children in some of the neighborhoods who are shottas who are being perpetrators of violence. The other children who are second hand exposed; these children end up – it’s something they can’t explain; something that is overwhelming. They can’t explain seeing a person get killed for what’s look to them like for no reason. There’s this fear.”


Lack of empathy is only one possible effect, it is not uncommon for children who are repeatedly exposed to violence to begin to glorify violence and perpetrators. They may say they want to be the gunman or bad man when playing or in their future. Lovell explains that parents can make adjustments so as to limit their child’s exposure.


Jennifer Lovell

“It is so important that parents shield children from seeing these images because it is re-traumatizing your child and each time they have to look at that it traumatizes them profoundly. If you look at the literature on trauma it affects them profoundly for a long time.  One of the things we know that to prevent things like post traumatic stress, is prevention preparation. You want to teach children exactly what they need to do. So if they are walking home from school and two people are shooting at each other. Then drop, tuck, roll.  Drop on the ground. Roll yourself up and roll out of the way. So they get hit by a care, they don’t get hit by a bullet. So we prepare them but we’re not scaring them.”


With these tips, parents are putting themselves back in control of protecting their children.  If the child has been exposed then be on the lookout for signs of trauma – that is – when a person or child becomes overwhelmed by events or circumstances and responds with intense fear, horror or helplessness. Trauma can manifest in children at any age.


Jennifer Lovell

“Generally I’m hoping people aren’t exposing little babies under three to dead bodies, you know when they run out to see what’s happening.  The little preschoolers who are coming from school and people start shooting, those kids will go back to school and they want to talk about it. If the teachers aren’t listening to them, those babies are going to start acting out. So the acting out behaviors, they wake up they have nightmares, they will wake up several times in the night, they’ll wake up screaming or they’ll wake up and come in your bed and want to be in the bed with the parents, or they’ll want lights left on. That’s the little ones probably up until eight years old.  With adolescents the acting out behavior will be getting into fights. Are going to be in your face, upstart to teachers, all the behaviors, stop doing homework, they are going  to be mouthing off to teachers, mouthing off to parents. They don’t help with chores. They’re depressed.  Parents are upset, teachers are upset and nobody asks the question what happened. The adolescents; your teenagers. Unfortunately Marleni, if teenagers have been exposed to chronic violence eventually they will become perpetrators too.”


And don’t forget to talk with the children. When something bad happen, no matter what age they are, ask the child what they know and how they are feeling?


Jennifer Lovell

“Once you start acting talking to them and giving them the opportunity to talk about the fear how afraid they are. Little kids can’t articulate to your how they are feelings until you ask them question.  Give them opportunities to talk to them about how they are feeling and how afraid they are and reassure them that you will try to protect them. There are so many things that have been happening and people need to call in professionals like by the next day to come in and debrief with the children, debrief with families, debrief with whoever.  Because if you wait too long then people start showing signs of post traumatic stress disorder which then becomes a long term problem.”


It is imperative that parents or teachers have this discussion with the children within the first three days of exposure to trauma and of course avoid re-traumatizing the children.


Jennifer Lovell

“I would like to say shield your children from the evening news. They don’t need to be sitting and watching the evening news shield them. Monitor or regulate what you allow your children to take in. all these things you allow your child to take in will affect your child. Number two you, you need to be monitoring your child to see how they are responding.  What I would want to see parents do is ask the children: how do you feel and listen. Let the children tell you. And ask them when you went back to school, you want to find out how they are taking it. How they are responding to it and any parent can do that. If you’re seeing some of the behaviors that we are talking about then you need to go and take that child to somebody.”


As a final note, free counseling services are available at the counseling center on Freetown Road in Belize City and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are also available at all public clinics countrywide.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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