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Ukraine's refugee children: Amid the war, how to help kids suffering from trauma

As the Russia-driven war continues in Ukraine, thousands of children in that country have been forced — and still are being forced, right at this moment — to leave their homes and venture to safer ground however they can.

Over 1.5 million children have fled the country since Feb. 24, totaling more than 75,000 kids, UNICEF reported.

James Elder, a UNICEF spokesperson, said this week that at each moment, 55 children flee Ukraine. That's almost one child per second.

Dr. Maryam S. Sharifian, a James Madison University assistant professor of education specializing in refugee children, expressed to Fox News Digital her concern for the suffering Ukrainian children as they abandon family members, friends and belongings for a foreign destination that is still, during their treks and travels, unknown to them, in many cases.

"We all have heard [of] separation anxiety as a phenomenon during the early childhood stage," she said. "This process is confusing, stressful and difficult to comprehend for children."

Dr. Sharifian said children exposed to war can exhibit such PTSD symptoms as fear, frustration, anxiety, fluctuation in physical activity, lack of sleep, clinging (to parents, siblings or teachers), decreased concentration, loss of appetite and angry outbursts or tantrums.

Various studies, the doctor also indicated, show that more than half of all children exposed to war trauma exhibit these kinds of PTSD symptoms.

One out of every four children attending school have been exposed to an event that can impact learning and behavior, she also said.

"War trauma not only affects the current health conditions of children — their future education may also be severely affected by these experiences," she said.

Other professionals such as Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel have also expressed concern, highlighting the potential long-term effects of disorientation and exploitation that kids may encounter on the journey far from home.

Dr. Siegel spoke with Save the Children's U.K. senior humanitarian health lead Ayesha Kadir, saying that refugee children face a "very high" mortality rate due to these high-stakes elements.

But Siegel said that kids can easily recover through the right therapy.

"Kids are resilient," he said on "America’s Newsroom" last week. "If the parents show them courage, and they show them the way forward, kids will respond and they will heal."

Even though children are often always the first victims during wartime, Dr. Sharifian also told Fox News Digital that learning from successful strategies in history can help prevent permanent psychological damage.

Studies in Israel and Syria, for example, explore Building Resilience Intervention (BRI) for students.

"Strategies such as enhancing self-esteem, self-efficacy and optimism in children by teaching them decision-making skills, achievable tasks and spirituality have much potential," she said.

"Resilience is an important factor in preparing them to move on to a healthy and successful future."

The professor encouraged parents and caretakers of struggling refugee children to establish routines and rituals and have open conversations about safety.

She also suggested using relaxation tactics such as breathing exercises, music and exercise.

"They should also help children to identify and label emotions and feelings, express their feelings and ask for help," she said.

"Parents can also role-play and ask children what they would tell a best friend, toy, or stuffed animal to do when they are scared. It is also a practical strategy … to help them navigate their feelings [and] to learn about coping strategies."


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