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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

Results

Previous Traumatic Experiences

The researchers used a three level scale ranging in severity of threat to one's life to code the eighteen refugee children's previous traumatic experiences as reported by their parental representatives and summarized in Table 1. All of the Haitian parental representatives responded with examples of traumatic experiences their children had experienced that they believed led to their present-day fears. Many responded with multiple examples of previous traumas. The four-level scale of previous traumatic experiences for the refugees used in this study is summarized in Table 1.

Table 1.
 Previous Traumatic Experiences  
Life-threatening Falling out of a building, close proximity to gunshots, hijacking
Moderately life- threatening Witnessing demonstrations and riots, street fights, killings, burnings, political problems in country of origin, threat of kidnapping, accidents
Not life-threatening Locked in a room, fear of kidnapping, feelings of lack of safety, family separation, crying, witnessing a ghost
N/A "Don't know," no answer

One of the parental representatives provided an example of a non-life threatening experience when she stated that her child "saw a ghost of someone who was dead and woke up and had nightmares for a long time." Four of the parental representatives provided examples of moderately life-threatening experiences such as "demonstrations, riots, people burning houses and tires, or witnessing killings." One Haitian refugee parent representative stated that her child "used to face all kinds of situations back in Haiti. There was a lot violence in his neighborhood and street fights." Three of the parental representatives provided examples of life-threatening experiences such as "being close to shooting weapons or police shootings." No responses of Haitian parental representatives fell into the "N/A" fear theme category by failing to answer this question. The most common life-threatening previous traumatic experience for Haitians was close proximity to gunfire. The most common moderately life-threatening experiences for Haitians were witnessing demonstrations and burnings (see Appendix).

Identification of Primary Fear Object

The researchers used eleven fear themes to code the eighteen refugee children's responses to the interpretation of the tree fear object. All of the Haitian children responded with a fear object. The fear theme information for all of the refugees utlized in this study is summarized in Table 2.

Table 2.
Fear Themes  
Dark dark, being outside at night, being in the dark alone
Lack of safety kidnapping, being chased, bad things, someone escaping from jail, someone hurting the child, getting hit by a car, falling, hiding, doing drugs, police
Being Alone not near parents, alone without family, outside alone, staying alone
Nature rain, thunder, moon, trees falling on child
Animals snakes, dogs, crocodile, rats, turtle, lion, bear, tiger, rabbit, alligator
Imaginary/Cultural Creatures ghosts, monster, zombies, zombie cats, evil spirits, dragon
Scary Movies scary movies
Verbal Arguments/ Disagreements parents shouting, lying
Lack of Basic Needs hunger, homelessness, being tired
Other (not able to categorize) bored, thinking, busy, something child was looking at
N/A No answer, "I don't know"

The five Haitian children in this study all drew primary fear objects that exclusively resided within the animal fear theme and imaginary/cultural creatures fear theme (see Appendix). The majority of Haitian children drew fears with the animal fear theme and explained their fears as objects such as "a little dog, snakes, alligators, or frogs." Four out of five animal fear objects that Haitian children reported were reptiles and amphibians (snakes, alligators, or frogs). A minority of the Haitian children drew fears with the imaginary/cultural creatures fear theme and explained their fears as objects such as "monsters coming out of the sky or zombies."

Lamppost Fear Object Interpretation

The researchers utilized eleven fear themes to code the refugee children's responses to the interpretation of the lamppost fear object as summarized in Table 2. The five Haitian children in the study interpreted fears within the darkness fear theme, nature fear theme, animals fear theme, and imaginary/cultural creatures fear theme. The fear theme that was interpreted by the Haitian children with the most frequency was the animal fear theme, and all the remaining fear themes were equally reported one time. All of the Haitian children who reported an animal fear theme object interpreted the lamppost fear object as a snake. One participant who was coded as interpreting an imaginary/cultural creature fear object stated, "There is a monster inside the building behind her. The monster looks like a window with big eyes, big teeth, big mouth, and a big nose." The participant who was coded as interpreting a nature fear theme interpreted the fear object as being "afraid of rain," and the participant who was coded as interpreting a dark fear theme interpreted the fear object as being "afraid of the dark."

Tree Fear Object Interpretation

The researchers utilized eleven fear themes to code the refugee children's responses to the interpretation of the tree fear object as summarized in Table 2. The five Haitian children in the study interpreted fears that resided within the lack of safety fear theme, being alone fear theme, lack of basic needs fear theme, and imaginary/cultural creatures fear theme. The fear themes that were interpreted by the Haitian children with the most frequency were the lack of safety fear theme and the being alone fear theme, and the remaining fear themes were equally reported one time. One participant who was coded as interpreting a lack of safety and being alone fear objects stated, "She [the girl in the picture] saw people doing drugs, so she ran. Now she is lost."

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