The premise is the following. A group of children is abducted from a country, officially in order to train them to become commandos later on. The officials knows such things are inefficient, but they are doing so for other reasons. The life for those children alternate between phase of simple trainings, which are tiresome but not life-threatening situation, and phase of more realistic training where those children actually experience the death of some of their friends.

Regarding the children: They are between 6 and 9 years old, from a country where children are taught earlier about craftmanship and self-survival. They did exercise a lot back then, and are from a subhuman subspecies that has a shorter lifespan but a faster cognitive and emotional development. As an example, you can expect such a 3 years old child to be able to walk, read, write, and speak as a "normal" 6 years old.

The question

What are the different expected behaviours for a child put in such stressful situation? I would like to represent this as realistically as possible, so I do expect to have an array of behaviour, depending on early education, personal preferences and personal experiences. Would they be able to cope up with us, and somewhat grow up early emotionally to withstand the pressure and to fight up to survive in such an environment?

I have already checked briefly online for academic material, but I wasn't really hoping to find a detailed thesis about people willfully testing such things on children, and I guess country that are practicing such things aren't really going into the spotlight. Nonetheless, if someone has links to something similar, I would be happy to read about it!


Some precisions regarding my underlying issues. At this point, we do follow one of those child and his comrades, while they undergo the training, but also the horrific stuff that do happen to them. Some of them are losing it rather quickly, unable to keep with pressure, while others tend to just shut themselves off and move forward to try to deal with what is thrown at them.

Very few of the children (2-3 out of a hundred) actively try to escape the facilities, which was pointed out by some of my friends as unrealistic because child would try to escape according to them from a location they deem dangerous. They were also strongly against the idea that a child could cope up with seeing another being getting brutally killed in a blink of an eye.

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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer, as I do not know them enoguh to answer your questions, but you should document yourself about mamluks, janissaries and generally devshirme. both were elite soldiers, formed by slaves from foreign origins, captured when they are still child. $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Kepotx: I don't think that "captured" is the correct word. Don't know much about mamelukes (which I think were actually a hereditary caste), but the children intended to become janissaries were taken and delivered as part of a regular administrative process, which was rarey violent. There was no attempt to make them forget where they came from, and quite often they sent back remittances and generally took care of their original families once they became established and got a regular income. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ VTC: This does not appear to be about world building. It looks like a better fit for writing.SE or writing.codidact. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ If you do believe that it's on the wrong sub, i can swap it. Since i am asking those questions for writing my novel which has somewhat different rules than our world, i posted it here, but i must admit that you are right regarding this specific question... $\endgroup$
    – Gwath
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew I disagree. The question is not about an individual but about a class of soldiers. Asking about general human behaviour is on topic. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


Abusive super soldiers with PTSD triggers.

So I spent 8 years volunteering with a charity dealing with children aged 5 to 10 who'd been through various forms of hell. Typically these involved being exposed to "realistic adult" situations, such as real world violence, adult sexuality, long term fear, or the emotional dehumanization one might see in this kind of military training.

Firstly - proceed with caution in this topic. Your work will basically need a giant trigger warning for child abuse. I'm a well adjusted adult male and I had to take a break just writing this answer. Getting deep into your fiction as a reader could be emotionally draining.

Your plan will sort of work. Children can be extremely adaptable and surprisingly resilient then-and-there when bad things happen. I suspect the surviving commandos will graduate as you expect. But many will fail after they're in the field.

They'll be suffering from that trauma, which I expect you'll see in two ways:

  • PTSD triggers. One day while calmly walking past a calm scene when everything's fine, your super soldier will collapse into a pile of tears or misplaced rage. Something will remind him of something traumatic from his childhood, probably the death of one of his friends.
  • They wont understand power dynamics or interpersonal relationships. You're not showing them normal human role models, you take them and you do what you want to them and that's all they know. How do they learn to solve emotional conflict? You've created a legion of wife beaters, child abusers, and school shooters.
    • They're probably going to frag their commanding officer after the first disagreement.
    • When supervision is missing, they're going to take what they want if they can get away with it. I expect your super soldiers will have a habit of raping and pillaging.
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer ! I already got the PTSD part spot on, thanks to some friends in the military. Regarding the children during the training, how do you think they would behave ? I was expecting most children to comply to authority, mostly because the said authorities has shown to have abusive force and could provide the children with food and basic necessities ? Also, you said they would have struggles with relationships. Do you think that applies inside their group, since they went through this together ? Thanks ! $\endgroup$
    – Gwath
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 15:31

Flight or Freeze

Children, in the actual moment of stress, tend to run or freeze. This is more generally the "fight or flight" reaction all humans do, but for kids the "fight" aspect is waaaaaay more rare. (Why I don't know, probably something to do with them being tiny. 6-year-old fighting a leopard is less likely to survive than 6-year-old running to adults or hiding from leopard.) So your PTSD-survivors-to-be will, when that First Big Shock comes, likely either freeze or run. Which depends on a trillion little things of psyche and situation, but if they have an adult in the area who they think can "save" them that will up the run reaction.

Would they be able to cope? Sadly, only sort of. They'd cope in the sense that they'd live through it and if exposed enough become inured to it. But the psych problems would be horrific. The thing to remember is, no matter what these kids' training officers think, there is VERY LITTLE exposure to death of friends/fellow soldiers/etc can do to "prepare" someone to experience the same thing in real combat. Especially if you weigh doing it against the other problems you're causing. (My own side killed my best friend, why should I fight for/trust my officers if they did that? comes instantly to mind.) Exposure to combat-adjacent things like live fire, little sleep, realistic targets, etc CAN help, but exposure to losses generally doesn't. That's why the SS (nazi scum yes, but the non-foreigner units were fairly effective shock infantry ) bragged about their fatality rate in training thinking it made "tough soldiers" but today US Infantry (arguably the best and unarguably the best trained infantry on the planet) DO NOT aim for fatalities in training, no matter if it's basic infantry or special forces equivalents. Exposing people to death and pain before you have to ends up being a net loss. Heck, going back to WWII the British and Americans both had a maximum time soldiers were supposed to spend in combat during the totality of their service because going past that point wasn't effective. (basically the experience earned after X days in combat was outweighed by the psychological trauma causing combat inefficiencies.) The sparknotes answer is no matter how hard or well you train, any given person can see only so much death/dismemberment before they're worthless as a soldier. If you start that clock at 6 you aren't going to have a Uber-trooper at 22, you're going to have a mental patient.

As an addendum, I agree wholeheartedly that such "soldiers" would actually be super bad at their job, especially in a modern setting. "dumb and angry" was never a great mentality for a soldier even in antiquity, and is actively selected against in modern combat.


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