The devastating effects of traumatic events on children are modulated by risk and protective factors. This study examines the differential effects of traumatic displacement of preschool children and their families following Scud missile attacks on Israel during the Persian Gulf War.
Three groups participated in the study: families displaced after their houses were damaged, undisplaced families from the same neighborhood (without home damage), and families from a distant city that was threatened but not directly attacked. Data concerning the traumatic event, the child (personality, internalizing, externalizing, and stress symptoms), the mother (Symptom Checklist-90—Revised), and the family (Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales) were gathered 6 months after the end of the war.
Displaced children and mothers showed higher externalizing and stress symptom levels compared with undisplaced and threatened subjects. Destruction of the house and displacement, but not mere distance from the missile impact, explained symptomatic behavior. Inadequate family cohesion predicted symptomatic reaction for 3- and 4-year-old children but not for older ones.
Both human and nonhuman factors contribute to the preschool child's adaptive mechanisms that regulate environmental stressful stimuli. These riskmodifying factors become more autonomous of caretakers with increasing age.