Feature: Games and plays help Turkish children cope with post-quake stress

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, March 18, 2023
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Play-houses, dress-ups and other children's games are being used as an effective way by Turkish therapists to help child quake survivors cope with post-traumatic stress.

The deadly earthquakes that hit southern Türkiye in early February have killed over 48,000 and turned many cities in ruins, leaving huge mental health impacts on survivors of all ages, but children are the most vulnerable.

"We cannot erase the traces of the disaster in children's minds, but we can be at their sides to offer comfort and make them accept what happened," Hande Atmaca, a counselor, told Xinhua in the Turkish capital city.

Dispatched to a relief center located in a residential complex where some 3,000 earthquake survivors, her work involves routinely playing with small kids.

"Playing games is a form of self-expression in children, and whatever they may have experienced they can immediately start to play on it, and it helps them to overcome their fears," she said.

Volunteers and the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality have set up a playground on the premises where children can play freely under supervision.

Play activities and psychosocial activities and workshops are organized throughout the day for children, including role-play and watching films.

When coping with traumatic experience, some children at first prefer play by themselves, but gradually they may be willing to talk to others.

"This is a normal process. We don't expect their anxiety to dissipate just yet. There has been an extraordinary event, and they are reacting to that," the counselor said.

Although people cope with trauma in different ways, it will take time for people to comprehend the long-term repercussions on mental health.

She said that children have been encouraged to draw pictures, and most of them were about damaged houses in the first weeks of the disaster.

But now, more than a month after the catastrophe, the children have calmed down and are playing loudly in the center's playroom.

Teenagers meanwhile are engaged in competitive games of ping-pong or chess in another area.

Any activity that establishes a routine and involves the children in social interaction in a setting of mutual support and care is acceptable, according to the expert.

The games are made to be fun to keep kids' minds occupied, so that they don't overthink past traumatic events, she added.

According to the United Nations, 5.4 million children in Türkiye were impacted by the massive earthquakes that affected 11 Turkish provinces and forced millions of people to take shelter elsewhere.

In Syria, the death toll from earthquakes is estimated at more than 6,000 people.

The number of children killed and injured in the disaster and its aftermath has not been revealed but is likely to be in the thousands.

Burak Hatipoglu, a volunteer in a relief center of Ankara's Mamak district which hosts over 3,000 earthquake victims, said that there is a big difference in the mood of children compared to when they first came, less than a week after the quakes.

"Playing games has had a positive effect on the mental state of the children, now it is like they have been here for ages, they come to this center by themselves and engage in games with other children," he said.

The volunteer stressed that children were happy with the caring and protective environment that workshop leaders strive to give.

"With the help of experts we tried to make sure that the children feel safe here, and as you can see, I can say that we have succeeded," Hatipoglu added, pointing to smiling children playing without a care in the world. Enditem

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