Every year, about a million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs, with over 600,000 incidents involving children. While our first concern is to care for the physical injuries that may occur, there is an emotional toll to pay as well.
Immediately following a dog bite, children may exhibit symptoms of emotional trauma, including heightened anxiety, fear and depression. It’s not uncommon for children to develop posttraumatic stress after being bitten. Given time, most children are able to heal, both physically and psychologically. But parents need to be proactive and take steps to help their children heal in a timely manner.
It’s very important to reassure your child that they have no blame in what took place. Avoid using language that sounds accusatory, such as "You should have..." and "I told you..." This may happen strictly due to the anxiety you feel at the moment, but be mindful that this may sound like you are blaming them, which will only cause additional trauma.
Usually, when a child is bitten, it’s during one of two circumstances. The animal was your pet or someone you know. It never showed any signs of aggression until the incident. Alternatively, your child may have come upon a stray animal. In either case, it’s important to understand that your child may not have been aware of the potential for danger.
Often, when a child is a dog bite victim, they may not want to speak about it. They may not want to elaborate on the attack, simply to avoid reliving the incident. Children tend to avoid speaking about things that frighten them. Even so, it’s important to provide them the opportunity to discuss the incident and share their feelings. By allowing your child to talk about their feelings, they are able to heal more quickly and deal with any residual emotions from the incident.
When a child is bitten by a dog, there is often a feeling of uncertainty that takes hold. This uncertainty stems from an inability to predict when or if they may be bitten again. Educate yourself on dog safety and teach your child how to handle themselves around dogs. This will reassure them and regain their sense of empowerment after experiencing such a traumatic event.