For long days, little five-year-old Yassine had been waking up to the same edgy pitch of his mother's voice arguing with her relatives and friends on the phone and echoing her fear and panic. Perplexed and confused, he moves to the other room to find the usual scene of his father's eyes glued to the television listening to presenters and reportors with the same gaunt and morbid faces bombarding viewers with news of the current situation. His confusion mounting and evolving into fear and uncertainty, the boy in stays in his room again.
Unfortunately, Yassine represents a majority of children who are the real victims of our negligence and inexperience in handling such an unprecedented situation, for whether we were backing the uprising that our country is witnessing or opposing it, we were all engrossed in the events thinking that the little ones were fine and oblivious to the mounting tension, and now we reap the results.
"A lot of children have been traumatized not necessarily because of the events but rather from the way their parents reacted in front of them," agrees Dr Yasser Nasr, lecturer of psychology at Cairo University. "First we have to acknowledge that it was not right to expose young children to the events and the tone of uncertainty, fear and insecurity 24 hours a day, and we added insult to injury by being too preoccupied to be by the side of their little ones and comfort them. Secondly, we have to understand that the nature of fear differs greatly in the case of children compared with adults, grownups tackle disturbing issues with multiple horizons and great depth, but children are more flexible and their fear is rather an emotional reaction."
Sometimes it is hard for parents to realise that their children are experiencing real fear and are being affected by it at such an age they often cannot articulate their feelings. Dr Nasr lists the symptoms as follows:
Appetite is usually the first disturbance in the pattern of sleeping, a fearful child might sleep more hours or on the contrary experiences insomnia.
A stutter or lisp might be an indication.
Parents should beware if they notice an increase in palpitation (heart beats).
Wetting the bed or crying at night or having nightmares.
A fearful child could make up weird stories or experience anxiety towards ordinary things.
A change in the nature of the kid could be a clear sign: a shy child might be suddenly aggressive or vice versa.
"There are numerous ways by which we could deal with the feelings of fear in children," assures Dr Nasr, "the following steps come first when the degree of fear is controllable and doesn’t need the intervention of an expert". He lists them as follows:
Isolate the source of fear by not exposing the child to whatever augments the trauma.
Don’t elaborate on the issue and try to simplify the ideas.
Warmth of the family is crucial in these times.
Dwell on the Play Therapy, play with your kids, let them express themselves and give a channel for their emotions through playing. Useful tools include Lego, making stories and performing plays , also arts are an important form of expression; a fearful child tends to draw dark circles and use gaunt colours, when asked to draw himself, he might draw himself very small with huge hands and feet, and depict their parents as immense in comparison. This indicates his yearning for protection and security. And when asked to draw a house, a child who is afraid would draw it without windows or doors.