In The Handmaid’s Tale, children or a lack thereof, have always been a guiding force behind many of the show’s biggest twists. If there’s one thing June, the Marthas, Serena, and the villains of Gilead all seem to agree on, it’s that the children should be protected at all costs. Season 3 made that point loud and clear, and Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 is primed to explore it from a new perspective: trauma recovery.
Spoilers ahead for the Season 3 finale of Handmaid’s Tale.
Now that the 52 children rescued from the confines of Gilead are under the protection of Canada, how will they begin to move on from their trauma? What does their journey entail and what are the psychological effects of having been raised in Gilead? Lucky for us, a real psychotherapist took the time to break down the mental state of The Handmaid’s Tale children and how their experience might be explored in Season 4.
In a long and detailed post, redditor u/randomgirl34861 explained the potential trauma facing Gilead’s children and how they could possibly “adjust to normal life”. The psychotherapist’s commentary begins by separating the children into age groups. “Trauma changes the brains of children, it typically has a more severe impact on younger kids, and when it happens over a long span of time the negative impacts are compounded,” they write.
For example, between ages 3 to 5, children suffer the most stress when they lose a parent. On Handmaid’s Tale, children that age would have been stolen from their real parents after Gilead overthrew the U.S. government. As these children grow older, they might not remember their parents, but they understand they suffered a tremendous loss and that alters their brain chemistry.
So how does this affect the escaped children headed into Season 4? There are so many possible repercussions from Gilead that it’s hard to specify which ones might come up, only that they should in one way or another.
Northwestern University’s Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services, and Intervention reports that childhood trauma can be brought about by a number “adverse childhood experiences,” including loss of loved ones, parental separation, and “mother treated violently” (something children in The Handmaid’s Tale have likely witnessed). Research also shows that “the signs and symptoms of traumatic stress look different in each child and at different ages.” So it makes sense to study the aftermath based on different age groups.
After all, adult characters like Emily, Moira, and Luke were able to escape Gilead, but their traumas weren’t given much screen time in Season 3. Will it be the same for these 52 children? There didn’t seem to be a lot of kids the 3-5 age group who escaped to Canada, but the first order of business would be to soothe their anxiety and reduce their anger from constant instability and displacement.
While children are usually used as leverage and not given much of a voice in The Handmaid’s Tale, the little girl June patches up in the Season 3 finale is a reminder of the trauma these youth face. Like the girl, who’s around 10 years old, most of the escapees seemed to range between ages 6 to 10. Adjustment to their new lives in Season 4 will be the most crucial for this age group.
The rescued girl is June’s daughter Hannah’s age and, according to the psychotherapist, is “more likely to suffer from Cluster B Personality disorders if left untreated,” which includes “highly emotional or unpredictable thinking/behavior and interactions”. There’s a lot more these kids suffer from, like a lack of self-esteem, which we’ve already seen play out in the little girl, who meekly asked if she’d get to wear whatever she wanted in Canada.
She was lucky enough to be reunited with her father right off the plane, but imagine the heightened feelings of insecurity, fear, and lack of self-worth in all the other children. Gilead seriously damaged their mental health and they don’t even realize it. So Moira, Emily, and the Canadian government have their work cut out for them. In Season 4, there should be efforts made to combat the effects brought on by Gilead by “addressing the desire to rebel, managing anger, decision-making skills, understanding age-appropriate behaviors” among a variety of other factors.
If nothing else, The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 should make the recovery of the 52 children a priority. After all, rescue missions don’t end with ensuring physical safety. That’s only the first step in what’s sure to be a life-long effort to reverse these children’s trauma.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 is currently streaming on Hulu.