Anne Machalinski and her four-year-old son were victims of a violent and random assault in New York City. “We've both suffered psychologically,” she writes in the New York Times. “Now, almost a year later, I still see the repercussions of that attack play out in my son's questions and behaviors on a regular basis.” Whether it's a bully acting out on the school playground, domestic abuse in the home or a random assault in the community, 60 percent of children in the U.S. are exposed to violence, crime or abuse on an annual basis, a 2009 Department of Justice report found. The numbers in many other nations are far larger.
As time passed, Machalinski says, her son talked about the attack less and less until he entered prekindergarten this fall and “started bringing it up again in new, more intelligent ways.” “It's natural for it to be coming up over time,” said Lia Amakawa, a clinical psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma at Rennicke & Associates in New York City. It takes time to process a traumatic event, she said, and that timeline is different for every person. Amakawa urges parents in such situations to “be open to talking, and validate the experience.” When Machalinskyi’s son asked if the “bad guy” was a bully, like a character in a Berenstain Bears book we recently read, she answered that he was.