Psychological Effects of a Dog Attack on Children
Being attacked or bitten by a dog is a traumatic experience for anyone, regardless of age. However, children—who, sadly, tend to be the victims of these attacks—often experience significant psychological effects that can have a serious and long-lasting impact on their lives.
In addition to your child’s physical wounds, it is important to pay attention to the potential psychological harm they are experiencing after a dog bite or attack. By knowing and recognizing the signs of psychological trauma, you can help your child get the proper treatment he or she needs to heal.
New or Worsened Fear of Dogs
Many children are fearful of dogs, even if they have never been bitten by one. However, after an attack, children are likely to experience a severe, sometimes debilitating fear of dogs due to the lingering trauma of the incident. If left unaddressed, this fear can persist into adolescence and adulthood, making life extremely difficult for the victim.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Children who are bitten or attacked by dogs may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after the attack.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of PTSD in children include:
- Intrusive, recurring, and unwanted memories of the attack
- Frequent nightmares
- Changes in sleep patterns/not wanting to go to sleep
- Extreme fear, including fear of dogs, fear or returning to the location where the attack occurred, and fear of being outside or around dogs altogether
- Intense anxiousness or becoming very upset when reminded of the attack
- Avoidance of things associated with the attack
- Irritability, anger, and sudden, unexplained outbursts
- Predominant negative emotions/acting withdrawn
PTSD is extremely distressing, particularly for children who often lack the ability to explain how they are feeling or identify their emotions on their own. The good news is that PTSD treatment is often very effective. If you notice any signs of PTSD in your child after a dog bite or attack, seek professional guidance from a qualified mental health care provider.
Anxiety & Depression
Dog bites and attacks can trigger extreme anxiety and depression in child victims. Your child may feel particularly anxious about being around dogs or may develop a fear of being outside where dogs may be present. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other types of psychological trauma can also lead to depression and similar mental health disorders.
In some cases, children may mistakenly believe that they were at fault for the attack because of something they did. This can cause immense stress and guilt, as children may believe they are responsible for the physical pain they are experiencing, as well as the emotional and financial challenges their parents are going through.
Additionally, dog attacks often lead to significant scarring. Children may struggle with poor self-esteem and negative body image, even long after their wounds have healed. This is especially true when child victims suffer facial scarring or lasting injuries to areas of the body that are often visible, such as arms or legs.
What to Do If Your Child Was Bitten or Attacked by a Dog
Often, children struggle to cope with the emotional aftermath of a dog bite or dog attack. However, with the right treatment, they can develop the tools they need to heal and move forward.
Remember, your child’s mental well-being is equally as important as her or her physical health after the attack. Make sure your child is assessed for trauma and, if necessary, gets the psychological and mental health support he or she needs. Even if your child’s doctor does not recommend counseling, it is important that you talk to your son or daughter about the incident and listen to how they are feeling in the days, weeks, and months that follow. If you notice any signs of latent psychological issues in your child, such as changes in mood/behavior or sleeping patterns, seek professional help from a trained and qualified therapist or counselor.
When talking to your child about the incident, make sure your child knows that he or she is not at fault for the attack, no matter what. Avoid using language that your child might interpret as blaming, such as “why did/didn’t you…” and “I told you not to…”
It is important not to blame your child for the bite/attack—after all, if the dog had been properly restrained or supervised, the attack would not have happened—but it can also be very empowering for your child to learn how to safely interact with dogs. Learning to recognize a dog’s body language and signs it may be aggressive can provide your child with the confidence he or she needs to heal. Knowing how to interact with dogs safely can also help your child avoid getting hurt in the future.
It is also important that you contact an attorney after the attack. Treating your child’s physical and psychological injuries can be incredibly time-consuming and costly; you should not have to shoulder these burdens on your own. At The Womac Law Firm, we fight to hold negligent dog owners accountable when their animals injure others, including our community’s most vulnerable members.
To learn how our firm can help you, contact our New Orleans dog bite lawyers for a free consultation.