We know that being a law enforcement officer or married to one has its challenges, but now we know that extended exposure to secondhand stress and trauma affects our kids as well. It’s a problem some police associations are trying to help with..
by Mark Bond
Law enforcement children can develop traumatic stress vicariously by watching and listening to their parents who are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a 2002 study led by Rudy Arredondo, this exposure can cause symptoms such as hyper-arousal, intrusive thoughts, eating disorders and aggressive agitated behaviors. Children can even share the same memories or re-enact their parents’ trauma just by knowing that a traumatic event was experienced by the parent.
Law enforcement parents with prior training in stress management techniques are less likely to transmit these symptoms to their children because they recognize their own stress responses. Not all children will experience or transfer their parents’ stress; however, it is something to be aware of after a law enforcement parent experiences a traumatic event.
An officer’s child will go through many different stages of acceptance of his/her parent’s law enforcement job depending on age and cognitive development. Fear of the unknown and worrying about a parent’s safety will affect a law enforcement child at some point.
Openly communicating with your child is the best approach to helping relieve stress of the unknown.
Communication and speaking to a child with reassurances is often the stress relief a younger child needs. If your children are older, talk with them about the reality of the job, your training and safety equipment used such as your vest. Sometimes just an open dialogue with your teenager is the best approach to help him/her process fear and stress.
It is easy to see that law enforcement children can be worried about their parent’s safety when there are so many police television shows, violent police/criminal video games, police and crime-related news stories exposing and discussing the dangers of the job. Watching for signs of anxiety in a child when the law enforcement parent is preparing to go to work is a clue that the child is experiencing stress.
A child’s anxiety is displayed in many different behaviors such as sudden unprovoked crying, mean or angry talk (unusual for the child), or acting needy and clinging to the law enforcement parent getting ready to leave the home for work.
Children do not always articulate their fears in ways adults recognize; therefore, parents just need to watch for signs that their child might be having trouble processing feelings that are causing higher stress levels. Being proactive with family talks about law enforcement is a quality way to create a safe environment for the child to express his/her feelings with helpful guidance from parents.
Or Google “Children of the badge: The impact of stress on law enforcement children by Mark Bond.”
Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with summa cum laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University and American Public University and is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service and Health.