World

Learning to cope with the stress of war

Stress is a part of life for most people.

Stress at work, stress at home, financial stress...the list in the modern world is endless.

However, not many people consider how families living in conflict zones have to deal with the stresses of war on top of the stresses of everyday life.

National Stress Awareness Month has helped to spread the word about stress, the effects of stress and coping mechanisms. People now know how much every day stressors can impact your mental health and wellbeing.

As more priority is given to mental health services for people in the UK, we cannot ignore the need for emotional and mental health support for children affected by war.

THE CONTINUOUS STRESS OF WAR

My name is Wali and I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Republic of Zaire).

I'm a member of War Child’s Youth Advocates Panel.

Being born in a war-torn country impacted my life massively.

Witnessing violence, experiencing trauma and the stress of not knowing each day what would happen to me and my family meant, even after moving to the UK, day to day life was challenging.

Learning a new language was difficult and in school I couldn’t communicate my thoughts and feelings.

I struggled for a long time in the classroom, trying to find ways to cope with my past, adapt to my new surroundings and the pressure of exams at the same time.

War Child's Escape Robot video explores similar experiences. Watch video

Continuous exposure to stress, (also called toxic stress), can affect children’s mental and physical health, including their cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical development.

Stressed children are vulnerable to dangerous coping mechanisms, dropping out of school and hazardous child labour.

Those who experience toxic stress may also experience memory and communication problems making it harder to succeed at school.

STRESS IMPACTING EDUCATION

Education is an important part of children’s lives all around the world.

However, many children affected by conflict are unable to access formal education, with research suggesting that only 50% of refugee children access primary education, compared to 91% of children globally.

This adds to the difficulties these children face, as being excluded from going to school can impact on children’s ambition and confidence.

When children can’t access school it doesn’t just make getting a job harder, it makes managing day to day life and other stresses very difficult, negatively impacting their well-being.

Even when children can access education, the effect of stress on the pupils cannot be ignored.

Children who have experienced a conflict are very resilient, but they should not be expected to be able to pick up a pencil and learn as if nothing has happened to them.

SUPPORTING RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY

Emotional support is essential for children affected by conflict to adjust well in schools.

Staff need to be able to recognise children’s invisible wounds to give them the emotional support they need.

Children need to be given tools to deal with any difficulties they face with at school and life in general. This must be relevant to the context these children are living in.

Having proper mental health and psychosocial provisions for children can make all the difference for positively changing children’s experiences of school.

War Child’s Education in Emergencies programmes make sure children have access to quality and relevant education, whatever their circumstances.

They set up safe learning spaces as soon as children are displaced, providing learning materials, and training teachers how to support children deal with their stress and emotions.

They also identify and support children and young people who need additional help to access mental health services.

In the longer term War Child and give children a broad range of knowledge and skills, including positive coping mechanisms, to provide a solid foundation for positive progress through school and life.

Find out more about War Child’s work on mental health and psychosocial support by reading the Reclaiming Dreams report.