This article offers recommendations for helping a child who has witnessed extreme violence. After witnessing such an act, children, like adults, may experience distressing symptoms. In the short term, they may re-experience the trauma in dreams or reenact the trauma in their play. They may appear emotionally numb and avoid people, activities they formerly enjoyed, and reminders of the trauma. All these symptoms can, in the long term, develop into posttraumatic stress disorder.
Given the serious consequences of witnessing trauma, the authors propose a multifaceted approach to helping the child recover. First, early intervention is key. As they describe in more detail in their article "Witness to violence: The child interview," the child should meet early on with a mental health professional to work on understanding and processing the trauma. The child's family should be counseled about how to help the child continue the healing process. Mental health professionals should also work with the child's school, since the classroom can offer the child a structured, stable environment that can aid in recovery even while the home may still be filled with stress. The traumatized child also needs support in coping with criminal or civil court proceedings. While the arrest, trial, conviction, and sentencing of the person who committed the violent act can help resolve the trauma, court proceedings can also cause more anxiety for a child.