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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

Abstract

This study investigates how children's experiences as Haitian refugees influence the development of atypical childhood fears. Eighteen child refugees were interviewed about their personal primary fear objects and their interpretation of fear in a series of drawing and picture observation exercises. Five of these eighteen children were Haitian refugees. Each of the refugee children had one adult representative who was interviewed about the child, the family's demographic information, and the child's previous traumatic experiences in his/her native country. The refugee children and their adult representatives' responses to the interview questions were coded and analyzed according to themes. Results suggest that Haitian refugee children have a higher rate of moderately life-threatening and life-threatening previous traumatic experiences. Results also indicate that the majority of Haitian refugee children reported amphibians as their primary fear objects, suggesting that the geographic location and characteristics of Haiti contribute to the development of Haitian children's primary fear objects. While animal and imaginary/cultural creatures may be the most prominently identified and interpreted Haitian fear, Haitian refugee children may interpret more life-threatening fears when prompted by the image of a child under a tree.

KEYWORDS: refugees, Haiti, trauma, fear, children, cultural awareness

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