Children exposed to war and terror can reduce psychological symptoms with 'special games'

Children with more self-confidence and other positive attributes will suffer less than a child with a smaller amount of self-confidence even though they were exposed to the same violence.

June 17, 2015 10:37
2 minute read.
Syrian refugee

Syrian refugee children play at the Domiz refugee camp in the northern Iraqi- Kurdistan province of Dohuk, on September 3, 2013.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The long-held premise that the amount of psychological harm to children exposed to “political violence” such as terror is determined by the length and seriousness of the events is wrong, according to Tel Aviv University psychologist Prof. Michelle Sloan.

Rather, she says, children with more self-confidence and other positive attributes suffer less than those with less self-confidence, even though they were exposed to the same violence.

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Sloan, will present “successful results” of a school program to promote psychological resilience to war events implemented after Operation Protective Edge last summer at a TAU conference on Thursday.

“During the second intifada, I studied the effects on Israeli and Palestinian children. Instead of a straight line showing the effects of the violence, I found a bell curve, in which low exposure to political violence boosts the psychological influence on the child, while more significant exposure actually weakens the influence on the child,” she said ahead of the conference.

As a result of her findings, Sloan concluded there are factors that moderate the connection between exposure and influence.

“Over time, children develop resilience to events and find strategic ways of coping, but not all of the youngsters succeed equally,” she said.

The factors, which she called “resistance factors,” include the ability to get social support, self-image and a feeling of “self-efficacy.”

The moment “we were able to isolate the psychological resistance factors, we decided to strengthen them, in an effective intervention program, so we could modify the connection between exposure to violence and serious psychological influences,” she said Immediately after the end of the war, Sloan distributed questionnaires to almost 500 youths ages 14 to 19 who live in the South asking about demographics; exposure to political violence; psychological/ psychiatric status; and their ability to amass social support, self-image and self-efficacy.

Since educational and health authorities are unable to reach individually and massively every child exposed to war and disaster, Sloan and her team trained school personnel to play games that strengthen the interaction among children and between pupils and their teachers. This, she said, boosted the resilience factors.

“Since we want to help many children in a short time and at a low cost, the best way to do it is at school,” she said.

The team tested the program’s effects by dividing the pupils into randomized treatment and control groups.

Those who played the games showed a significant improvement in their resilience factors, with a 50 percent drop in their psychological and psychiatric symptoms, while those who didn’t participate in the games showed a decline in all three factors.

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