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‘Aggression, isolation, nightmares’ for Syrian children fleeing war

January 6, 2014   The tens of thousands of Syrian […]

6 January 2015

January 6, 2014


The tens of thousands of Syrian children who make it across the border into Jordan often suffer from their experiences of war. Countless children have seen death, destruction and damage from fighting in their neighborhoods; their families choose to leave their homes and lives behind because there is so little left to lose.


Psychological services are not a priority in Syria as the war approaches its four-year anniversary. Several non-governmental organizations such as the Syrian Women’s Association and the Syrian Education Commission support the Sidra Center, founded in Jordan in 2013 to treat children affected by the after-shock of war.


The center has treated 85 children for a variety of post-traumatic symptoms, the most frequent of which are nightmares, involuntary urination, aggression, and a refusal to accept reality, Basel Abu Zaid and Wafaa al-Sheikh, two of the center’s supervisors, tell Syria Direct’s Batool Salah Hajjar.


The center works to combat such emotional trauma with a mixture of relaxation sessions, play, drawing and story-telling.


These activities, however, are not enough to ease the severity of children’s’ emotional suffering. Parents must also play an active role, says Abu Zaid.


Most families deny reality in front of their kids…one needs to tell their child what happened in an appropriate manner, and teach him that there is a truth called death.”

Q: How do you advise families whose children have lived through the conflict and war conditions?

Most families deny reality in front of their kids. For example, they’ll say that your father didn’t die, but that he’s traveling and will return shortly—that’s a mistake.

One needs to tell their child what happened in an appropriate manner, and teach him that there is a truth called death. For example, saying that your father died and went to heaven, just like a dove or other animal who died that children might be familiar with.

There are some families who refuse to bring their child in for treatment. They say that my kid isn’t sick, and doesn’t need a psychologist. I would say to them: This is not a disease, it’s a state of temporary shock and needs to be treated.

ChildrenTrauma Abu Zaid at the Sidra Center.

Q: What are the most common psychological problems you see at the center?

The most common problems are involuntary urination, aggression and isolation, nervousness, a lack of acceptance of others and lack of communication with them.

Often the children suffer from a fear of loud sounds, nightmares, and denial of reality. Many refuse to enroll in school out of fear of losing their family a second time during their absence [in school], seeing as they lost members of their family previously.

Q: What treatment methods do you use?

Treatment begins by getting to know the child and diagnosing their psychological state. We do that through field visits to their families. After that, we bring the child to the center so they can become familiar with it and feel a sense of tranquility, and [we do that] by means of an ice-breaker session.

After that, treatment begins through drawing, where we let the child draw freely—through this method they let out what’s inside their heads, and this helps us to discover their personalities.

We also use relaxation sessions, which are essential sessions in treatment. We make the child relax and close their eyes, and we tell them a children’s story, a story which is beautiful and appropriate for their psychological problem, in order to change their negative ideas and concepts into positive ones.

There’s also treatment through play, by means of entertaining and educational, targeted activities.

Q: How would you describe the treatment services presented by agencies tasked with caring for children who have been affected psychologically by the war?

Most of these agencies are interested in entertaining the child through play—this isn’t sufficient.

Treatment through play is one treatment method, but it is not enough for children who have been exposed to the shock of war.

Q: Why did you choose the name Sidra for your center? ّWhat about this particular girl’s story is special?

Sidra is a five-year old girl who tried to flee the bombings in Daraa with her family. A missile struck the car they were driving in, which led to her mother, father and brother being burned alive before her eyes. This is what her grandmother who brought her to the center said.

Sidra received first aid in Daraa before moving to Jordan.

Sidra came to us and she was terrified. She would scream at night and cry and call to her parents, and she had nightmares and couldn’t sleep.

Q: How many sessions does the child need? How long is each session?

They need between 8 and 10 sessions, depending on the child’s state.

The sessions last half an hour to an hour.

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