Effects of House Break-ins on Young Children
By: Beth McHugh 2009
Have you had your house broken into? If the statistics are to be believed
then there is a pretty good chance that you either have been or you
will be. Although a robbery is a traumatic event for anyone to go through,
the effect on young children is often longer term than that for adults.
When your home is broken into there are several effects that the incident has on the homeowner. The most obvious one is when treasured or valuable objects are taken. Then there is the sheer inconvenience of having to deal with insurance companies (if you are insured) or simply finding the money to replace the stolen items. It’s not on of life’s happier experiences.
The next factor is the psychological effect of having strangers in your home, not only stealing your property but riffling through your personal possessions. This is particularly the case when the perpetrators have been in the bedrooms. Taking a computer from the study is one thing, but to have your underwear drawer searched and dumped in a mad hunt for hidden valuables can give a sense of personal invasion. In fact, most people who have been robbed state that they feel a sense of violation that someone has been walking around their house uninvited. And this does not take into account those thieves who vandalize your house into the bargain.
So how does this affect young children? Older children past the age of roughly 8-10 understand the concept of what has occurred and become angry, especially if any of their own possessions were taken. In this sense they do react similarly to an adult.
But younger children often become much more fearful after the event even if nothing of their own was taken. Expect that your toddler will show signs of emotional regression for a short period of time. There may be incidents of refusal to go to bed, particularly if they sleep in a room alone, in case the “naughty men” come back. This is completely normal. There may be a regression to bedwetting. Again, this is normal. At odd times in the day your toddler may ask a random question about the robbery.
The best way to handle these “symptoms” of the unfortunate increase in crime in our cities is first to expect that there will be a reaction and to react calmly and gently to your young toddler. S/he may need the light on for a week or two when going off to sleep. There is no harm in indulging this as this is the quickest way for the child to return to their pre-robbery state. If bed-wetting should occur reassure both yourself and your child that this is normal under the circumstances and that it will go away as soon as the child realizes that the robbers don’t come back every night.
It is important that you as the parent reassure your child that, while these incidences can and do happen, they are safe and that you are there if you need them. If nightmares occur, nip them in the bud by comforting your child and talking to them about it the following day. By maintaining a calm, matter-of-fact attitude about the robbery you will encourage your child to do so as well. If you are particularly distraught yourself, ask your partner or a friend to take your child while you look after your own grief and/or anger about the situation. You can expect your child to recover from a break-in in about 3-4 weeks, with perhaps an occasional reference to the incident for the next month or so.