New beginnings aren't always easy

Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad sits with a child on the first day of classe After many hours of planning and preparation, the Fall session is at last underway and the sound of laughter and chatter once again fills the halls and classrooms at TYO. Children from the most undeserved areas of Nablus are greeted with smiling faces from TYO staff as everyone excitedly welcomes the children back to TYO.

But as is often the case at the beginning of the session, some children in the Core AM program struggle with attachment and separation anxiety issues. For many of TYO’s youngest beneficiaries (4 & 5 years old) coming to TYO marks the first time in their short lives they are away from their families and in some cases even the first time they are away from their refugee camps or neighborhoods. Despite entering a warm and loving environment at TYO, for many of the children the drastic change in environments can be overwhelming. Beyond this, as a result of the instability of camp life, many children will have already had exposure to traumatic events- such as home invasions, or the incarceration of a parent- which can exacerbate existing attachment issues. As such it is even more critical that TYO mitigates the stress created by entering a new environment. Given that most children will not have access to pre-school or kindergarten, it is critical that we ease children’s anxiety and help them to develop positive feelings towards a classroom environment in order to alleviate adjustment issues later which could harm their academic achievement. Further, when acute separation anxiety goes untreated, it could develop into more serious psychological issues in adulthood.

Under the guidance of TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager, TYO utilizes a play therapy approach to help children adjust. Play-based activity enables children to establish links between their inner thoughts and their outer world, allowing them to inadvertently reveal the thoughts and emotions they deem as threatening. It can be used to help treat a variety of issues- everything from anger management, exposure to crisis/ trauma, to anxiety and autism. Once expressed and depending on the severity of the situation, TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager can put together an action plan for the child, Core Child Program Teacher, and parents as to how to best help the child adjust.

Through the STEP! Program, TYO has been working with Columbia University's School of Social Work to evaluate TYO’s existing Core Child psychosocial curriculum in order to best meet the needs of children. As such, the activities in the first week of the program were revised to include more ice-breaking activities with an emphasis on proactively treating separation anxiety issues. Beyond this, backup activities are prepared outside the classroom for children who need more individualized attention. In such cases, those children requiring extra attention are often crying and unwilling to engage in classroom activities. TYO volunteers and staff are ready to work one-on-one outside the classroom with building blocks, clay, and iPads. The use of such materials has been extremely effective in helping children to workout their anxiety and overcome their fears while adjusting to their new environment.

Though the first week can be stressful for children, we know the safe and nurturing environment created for our children is bound to return smiles. Until then, we are waiting with illimitable energy and patience to ensure a smooth transition.

-Suhad Masri, Psychosocial Program Manager & Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director