Inside Syria: The Psychological Toll on Children

The civil war in Syria is leaving a generation of children with lasting psychological scars. UNICEF has helped nearly 470,000 of these children receive emotional support this year in children's centers and school clubs. These children include 250,000 inside Syria, 128,000 in Lebanon, 80,000 in Jordan, 5,500 in Iraq and 5,000 in Turkey.
Children at a UNICEF Children's Center in Syria Amanda holds up a picture that she painted at the Mashta al Helo center. © UNICEF Syria/2013/Youngmeyer

UNICEF's efforts are critical to the 4 million children affected by the ongoing conflict. Most have been exposed to the sound of gunfire and shelling. Many have witnessed extreme violence, experienced the destruction of homes and communities, or suffered the trauma of displacement. The stress of these experiences is taking a profound toll. “Parents report that their children are experiencing frequent nightmares and exhibiting reckless and aggressive behaviors,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Bedwetting is common, and children have become more withdrawn and clingy. Their drawings are often violent and angry with images of bloodshed, explosions and destruction.”

UNICEF Children's Centers: Providing Emotional Support

Throughout the war, UNICEF has kept children's centers open in cities like Aleppo, Dera’a and Homs, scenes of some of the most intense violence, to provide badly needed emotional support. The programs these centers provide, however, are equally necessary in refugee camps at Syria's borders and places like the tranquil eastern Tartous region near Syria's Mediterranean coast. Some 4,000 families have fled here, and while their children have escaped the immediate danger of bullets and missiles, they still carry the psychological impact of their experiences inside.
Children at a UNICEF Children's Center in Syria Children play sports at the UNICEF-supported center in eastern Tartous, Syria. © UNICEF Syria/2013/Hassoun

At the UNICEF-supported child center in Mashta al Helo, a small town in eastern Tartous, a specialist provides counseling to any child who needs it. They also have a chance to play sports and hang out with other children. Amanda, whose family fled here from war-torn Homs, loves the art classes held outside on the lawn. “I like to paint and draw,” she says. “I like playing with the other children too.” The Mashta al Helo center also provides remedial classes in Arabic, English, French and math — crucial to the children whose educations have been interrupted; nearly 2 million Syrian million children have dropped out of school in the last academic year alone. Emotional support, education, clean water, nutrition, immunizations and medical care: UNICEF is working to provide Syria's children with all the critical help they so desperately need.  Pleases support UNICEF's efforts to help Syria's children.