How to psychologically support a child in an evacuation? Psychologists’ advices to migrant parents

Moving to a new place of residence, or even to another country, is stressful, even if these changes are desired. The stress multiplies immensely if it is a forced move or an escape from a cruel enemy. What psycho-emotional challenges are the refugees currently facing? How to help yourself and your child to overcome them? Experienced psychologists share their advice.

What is the problem?

Today, millions of Ukrainians have either lost their homes physically or are unable to return there because of constant enemy shelling and destroyed infrastructure. As of December 20, more than 7.8 million refugees from Ukraine were registered in Europe. More than 6.5 million citizens became internally displaced in our country, and more than half of them (53%) have been in this status for more than six months.

Homesickness, worry about the family, and the need to quickly adapt to new conditions, often – to a different language and sociocultural environment – all this lead to excessive stress for both adults and children. A “suspended” state is frequently added to the difficulties of forced migration. It’s a state of uncertainty that is very exhausting. Are we here for long? Is it worth putting down roots in another land if there is hope that the war will end soon and we will return home?

According to my observations, there are two categories of migrants who experience the greatest stress now. The first one includes teenagers: simply because, in addition to all the challenges of forced migration, the difficulties of the teenage period are added. Besides, in adolescence, socialization and communication with peers come to the fore – if a child does not know the language of the country where they moved, this becomes an additional stressful factor.

The second category comprises people from active combat areas who saw shelling, destruction, and perhaps death, were under occupation, or had been hiding in cold basements for weeks. For them, adaptation in a new place is complicated by a previous traumatic experience, which they haven’t coped with yet.

Liudmula Romanenko, a psychologist with whom the Voices of Children Foundation cooperates, a supervisor of the Center for Psychosocial Rehabilitation of NaUKMA.

What is the solution?

According to the Ministry of Health forecasts, Ukrainians will experience the psychological consequences of the war (in particular, PTSD) for another seven to ten years. But this is not a sentence – you can work with any condition. Many programs and charitable initiatives already exist, aiming at helping re-live the trauma of the war and thereby heal.

Among others, the Voices of Children Charitable Foundation provides psychosocial support (art therapy, fairy-tale therapy, the Children and War CBT program, the Safe Space correctional and development program), and mobile teams of psychological assistance also work in several regions of Ukraine.

Working through the experience with psychologists helps children of war and their parents regain control over their reactions. Internally displaced persons can receive support in person at one of the Foundation’s 6 locations (Kyiv, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Truskavets, and Berehove). There is also online psychological support, which you can apply from anywhere worldwide. Psychologists who cooperate with the Foundation share techniques to help internally displaced people reduce anxiety and feel more cozy and comfortable in a new city.

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19th day of the war

19th day of the war

Disregarding the norms of international humanitarian law, Russia continues to destroy civilian and children’s infrastructure in Ukraine. As a result of the air strike on the town of Malyn,Zhytomyr region, a house and a kindergarten were damaged. In Mykolaiv occupiers bombed local school. More than 5,050 people have been rescued in the past 24 hours. […]