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Children and war: Risk, resilience, and recovery

  • Emmy E. Werner (a1)


This article reviews and reflects on studies that have explored the effects of war on children around the world. Most are cross-sectional and based on self-reports. They describe a range of mental health problems, related to dose effects and to the negative impact of being a victim or witness of violent acts, threats to and loss of loved ones, prolonged parental absence, and forced displacement. The more recent the exposure to war, and the older the child, the higher was the likelihood of reported posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Especially vulnerable to long-term emotional distress were child soldiers, children who were raped, and children who had been forcibly displaced. In adulthood, war-traumatized children displayed significantly increased risks for a wide range of medical conditions, especially cardiovascular diseases. Among protective factors that moderated the impact of war-related adversities in children were a strong bond between the primary caregiver and the child, the social support of teachers and peers, and a shared sense of values. Among the few documented intervention studies for children of war, school-based interventions, implemented by teachers or locally trained paraprofessionals, proved to be a feasible and low-cost alternative to individual or group therapy. More longitudinal research with multiple informants is needed to document the trajectories of risk and resilience in war-affected children, to assess their long-term development and mental health, and to identify effective treatment approaches.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Emmy E. Werner, University of California, Davis, 1307 Henry Street, Berkeley, CA 94709-1928; E-mail:


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