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Jaafar Al Aqili
With the spread of conflicts and war zones across the globe, it is inevitable that the next generation of children in those areas will suffer as they grow up. The psychological problems they face must be recognised and the children helped to recover from the traumas they have endured.
A seminar held during the tenth edition of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival highlighted that reading is one of the most modern and effective ways to help children deal with the emotional stress caused by acts of violence.
According to psychiatrists, trauma caused by human action affects a child more severely than natural disasters and is more memorable, especially if it is repeated. This may be accompanied by a chronic social phobia, in which a child avoids events, people or anxiety-related subjects, such as soldiers, sirens of war, loud sounds and aircraft.
As children show their feelings while playing, drawing or writing, they may represent war scenes or war-related situations or prefer to play soldiers or tell war stories.
Children’s author Jennifer Bell from London believes that books have become an ideal medium to help children cope with violence. She says that based on her experience as a bookseller in Foyles, one of the UK’s oldest and best-known bookshops, a large number of children who experienced violence were able to overcome trauma through reading and claims that literature can take children from reality to an imaginary or virtual world where they can create and live their own stories.
Bell sees that fantasy and fiction books provide children with an opportunity to learn and feel protected in a tranquil and comfortable haven as well as explore their inner selves.
She also believes in the role of books in redirecting children’s behavior, and while fantasy books may include come violent scenes, these can allow a child’s suppressed feelings to come to the fore. She called for authors and writers to talk about the subject in a balanced way and present it as an adventure.
Iraqi education expert, Toqa Abdul Rahim, stressed that the waves of displacement in Iraq in recent years have had a significant impact on children who are suffering now from ‘war trauma’.
She conceded that protecting children from violence seems almost impossible because they are exposed to conflict increasingly every day, citing her work in refugee camps where children have extreme exposure to violence. Children who suffer from war trauma need early psychosocial support as it may not be detected immediately and its negative effects may take years to appear. One consequence of that may be that children have a predilection towards violence themselves.
Among the psychosocial support that should be provided to children and their families, the Iraqi education expert highlighted reading fully illustrated stories that are free of any signs of violence, whether physical or moral.
Abdel Rahim explains that children’s use of red and black colors often indicates that they have been exposed to violence and warns of the consequences of war trauma on children, which mainly manifests itself as a child’s tendency to engage in violent acts.
More than half a million Iraqi children are suffering significant war trauma-related harm and are likely to be in need of psychological support.