Children who are bitten by a dog often experience significant stress that can persist long after the incident. The may feel betrayed if their own dog bit them, guilt if the dog is put down or sent away, anxiety due to the distress that this has caused their parents and fear of some or all dogs. Signs that your child is experiencing emotional distress or even post traumatic stress include, nightmares, social withdrawal, fear of going outside or other changes in behavior that surface after the incident.
Please remember that no matter what, it is NOT YOUR CHILD'S FAULT that they were bitten by a dog. If the dog was supervised and secure the child would not have encountered the dog. Be sure to reassure your child that it is not his fault and avoid using language that might add to a child's guilt ("you should have..." or "why didn't you..." or "if only you had..." or "I told you not to..."). In many cases neither the child nor the supervising adult, nor the dog owner realized that there was a danger of a bite because the dog was a generally friendly family pet. In other cases the child encountered a strange dog running loose, a situation that should have been prevented by the dog owner. Learning about dog body language and how to read the signs from a dog will help prevent these types of bites in the future and will be empowering for the child. We do not blame the victim, but we do encourage education for children just as we would for any hazard. The more they know, the less likely they are to be hurt.
Child psychiatrist Dr. R. Larry Schmitt recommends that parents repeatedly encourage and allow their child to talk about the incident and their feelings.
Read an article by Dr. Schmitt about why it is important to keep encouraging your child to talk about the bite or attack and more importantly to listen to your child.
Find out more and read answers by Dr. Schmitt to frequently asked questions from parents.
Dr. Schmitt will be giving a lecture for parents about how to help a child after a dog bite. This will be held at the San Diego Humane Society on May 22 from 6:30-8:00 PM. If your child has been bitten, be sure to attend so that you know how to prevent lasting emotional effects.
Click here for more information or to register.