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The Influence of Previous Traumatic Experiences on
Haitian Child Refugees' Conceptualization of Fear

By: Jessy Guler, Courtney Guler, and Dr. Judit Szente | Mentor: Dr. Judit Szente


This study investigated how previous traumatic experiences, which frequently characterize refugee experiences, influence refugee children's primary fears and interpretation of fear. The results suggested that the majority of Haitian refugee parental representatives reported that their children had been subjected to moderately life-threatening and life-threatening experiences in Haiti. This finding suggests that Haitian children may be more susceptible than children not from Haiti to developing fears reflective of their most frequently experienced situations in Haiti. Haitian refugee children most frequently identified and interpreted animals and imaginary/cultural creatures as fears, neither of which can be defined as atypical of a developing child (Burnham, 2009). However, based on the results from this study, further research may indicate how amphibian creatures and Haitian cultural/spiritual influences play a role in Haitian children's fear development.

The study also suggests that Haitian refugees responded more reflectively when interpreting the fear of a child sitting underneath a tree. The results from this activity generated more traumatic and life-threatening responses for the Haitian refugees, with specific answers ranging from escaping drug-users and losing his or her family. This finding suggests that Haitian children's interpretation of fear may be influenced by their previous traumatic experiences.

There were several limitations to this study. The small sample size severely limited this study. Further research with an increased sample size may yield more results about how traumas associated with the refugee experience influence refugee children's fear and interpretation of fear. Another limitation was that the children's reported previous traumatic experiences in their native country were provided by the parents and not self-reported by the children themselves. The questionnaire utilized in this study was required to be read verbatim to the child, which could have limited further questions regarding the child's identification or interpretation of fear. The study aimed to draw connections between child refugee's experiences and how those experiences are reflected in the topical components of childhood fears. However, due to the descriptive nature of the study, no conclusions on the causal relationships between the selected variables were drawn.

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