Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 11:28:06 AM EST
I just read this from the UNICEF magazine I found in my (hardware) mailbox:
|Il faut distinguer le trauma (le coup réel, la blessure, l'indifférence des autres) et le traumatisme qui est la représentation du coup, de ce que l'enfant met dans sa mémoire, que son entourage lui dit, et du discours de la culture qui qualifie les enfants soldats de "monstres perdus, d'assassins..." Il faut donc agir sur l'alentour, en expliquant au village, à la famille les "fracas" subis par l'enfant.|
L'adulte ne doit pas se focaliser sur le trauma des enfants, pour ne pas leur apposer l'étiquette: "Il est celui qui a été enfant soldat", au risque de ne laisser comme seul choix que mercenaires aux garçons et prostituées aux filles.
|You have to distinguish between the trauma (the real blow, the wound, the indifference of others) and the traumatism that is the representation of the blow, of what the child puts into her/is memory, that the surrounding circle of people tells him or her, and of the discourse of the culture that calls child-soldiers "monsters, fallen, murderers..." So you have to act on the child's surroundings, by explaining to the village and the family the "bust-up" the child has been through.|
The adult shouldn't focus on the children's trauma, so as to avoid sticking on the label: "He's the one who was a child-soldier", which bears the risk of leaving the boys with the sole choice of being mercenaries, and the girls prostitutes.
It's by Boris Cyrulnik, French ethologist and neuropsychiatrist, who works with UNICEF on problems faced by kids who have been forced or inveigled into joining war bands.
The thing, he says, is to take the stigma out of what they did - or, above all, how what they did can be described and how they can be labelled (narrative, narrative...). Surround them with ordinary, everyday emotional and educational links. Get them to play music, football. Not pretend nothing ever happened, but not insist on dragging it all out, not dramatize it. Even denial is not such a bad thing - for a time - he says. It's like plaster around a fracture, that keeps everything still as it heals.
The concept he supports is that of "resilience". We can bounce back, even from terrible ordeals:
Boris Cyrulnik: surviving the trauma of life
There is no typical profile. But a traumatized child can still be resilient if she or he has acquired a gut or primitive confidence in the first year of life. Such children take the attitude that “I’ve been loved therefore I’m worth loving, so I live in hope of meeting someone who’ll help me resume my development.” These children feel a lot of grief but still relate to other people, give them gifts of food and look for an adult they can turn into one of their parents. Then they give themselves a narrative identity – “I’m the one who was… sent to the camps, raped, forced to become a child soldier” and so on.
If you give them a chance to make up for lost time and to express themselves, nearly all—90 to 95 per cent—become resilient. They have to be given a chance to be creative, to test and prove themselves as kids, through things like joining the scouts, studying for an exam, organizing a trip and learning to be useful. Problem youngsters feel humiliated when they’re given something, especially if there’s a lecture along with it. But they regain their balance when asked to give something themselves.
Cyrulnik is far from having all the shrink world on his side. Psychoanalysts, in particular, call him a behaviourist (possibly because he studies animals as much as humans - but I don't see the behaviourism in his discourse on culture, labels, and narratives... Am I mistaken? Apparently the concept of resilience came from the behavourists in the 1950s...). He would not bring out his own experience (which he was for years quiet about) in his defence, but it probably influenced his thinking. A Jewish Russian immigrant child in Bordeaux during WWII, he lost his parents and was himself shut up in a synagogue during a round-up organized by Maurice Papon, but managed to escape. The only survivor of his family, he believed himself ready to die of grief. He became France's most charismatic and popular psychologist.
There's more from him in English here.