Regaining resilience through counseling
Community-based mental health care creates safe spaces for refugee mothers and children
Managing your stress in difficult times
Whether you are a parent of a baby or toddler, you will experience joy, anxiety, or frustration among others while taking care of your child – this is completely normal. Whenever you feel stressed, it’s important to have good social support around you, seek help and take the time to manage your own feelings and challenges.
Everyone needs somebody to tell their worries to, and a person or a group who helps go through difficult times -especially if you had to flee from war with your children.
Mariana, 25, took her three small children, Artiom, 6, Lucica 3, Daniela 1, and fled Ismail, Ukraine, on 20th of January this year. Mariana had to make a quick decision to take her children to a safer place. She decided to get a ride to Romania, as she spoke some Romanian. It was a long bus ride for all of them. When they approached the North Rail Station, the largest station in Bucharest, they did not know where they were nor did they know anyone, but they were warmly welcomed by volunteers. “The volunteers came to pick us up even though it was 4am,” remembers Mariana. “I just ran from danger, came blindly to Bucharest. I just wanted to get my children out.”
Mariana is one of many who joins psychosocial support counseling provided by UNICEF’s partner, Four Change Association. “There are many counseling sessions available for different ages of children, mothers with babies, and group sessions. I participated in all of them. It helps me because there is someone to talk and let it out to rather than keeping my concerns inside.” The counseling lets participants speak about their feelings, how their situation is impacting their mental health, understand their stress factors, and receive advice on how to support their children adapt to their new environment better. The counselors also identify mothers who are not coping well and offer additional support.
Building children's mental health through play
When mothers are actively benefiting from counseling sessions, they are more likely to be aware of the benefits for their children too. Children who had to leave their homes in Ukraine may be in shock and desperate for sense of stability or protection. Mariana knew psychosocial care can help heal her children’s mental health.
“I take my children out here everyday,” says Mariana. She brings the children to the parks and the activities offered by Four Change with UNICEF support. Her children like to play games and run around with other Ukrainian children. Lucica, 3, likes to attend drawing and art therapy classes, where the mothers and their children can join the programs together. Lucica’s favorite activity was painting colored eggs and drawing flowers together with her mother for Easter.
Play is an essential part of building the child’s mental health. Drawing, dancing, singing are good ways to relieve stress for any child. When children are enjoying the moment and are smiling and laughing, their bodies release endorphins that promote their well-being, which can protect children from the negative impacts of prolonged exposure to stress. Fleeing from war, Ukrainian children have been exposed to uncertainty and stressful situations which can affect their physical and mental health. Positive, fun and supportive environments are essential for children to grow without fear and anxiety. Giving children opportunities to play allows them to work through their feelings such as pain, fear or loss, while being able to still act as a child. Young children can also learn how to express themselves and manage big emotions.
Mariana’s wish for her children
Every parent wants to create the best environment that will foster their children's growth and development to the fullest. Mariana has her plans. She intends to stay in Romania and wishes to continue her children’s education here. “I enjoy living here and I want to enroll my children into the Romanian public school. I don’t want to leave until the war ends. We have a community here and we are not alone.”
When they arrived at the Transit Centre for People from Ukraine of the Technical University of Construction Bucharest in January, her children quickly understood they were safe in the new environment. Reuniting with Mariana’s sister and their children and other family friends helped the children have some sense of familiarity. The Russian-speaking student volunteers from the Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest (UTCB) who showed tremendous hospitality and willingness to help them settle have also played a huge role in the refugees’ lives. The transit center provided by the university is a former dormitory building marked for renovations before the start of the war, and re-opened so that it could house refugees in need of accommodation. The transit center is supported by the Swiss contribution to reducing economic and social disparities in the EU and is also a great example of public-private partnership between the Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest (UTCB), the Municipality of District 2 Bucharest, local NGOs, and UNICEF, each of the actors involved contributing with its own resources, global and local experience and expertise.
As the war in Ukraine drags on, more refugee families need sustainable support in the communities where they have settled. UNICEF continues to support children, adolescents and their families with community-based services and child protection programs so that no one is left behind.