Effects of War, Terrorism and Armed Conflict on Young Children: A Systematic Review

Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2016 Dec;47(6):950-965. doi: 10.1007/s10578-016-0626-7.


Millions of children have been maimed, displaced, orphaned and killed in modern warfare that targets civilian populations. Several reviews have documented the impact of political trauma on children's mental health but none has focused specifically on young children (ages 0-6). Since developmental factors influence the young child's perception and experience of traumatic events, this developmental period is characterized by a unique spectrum of responses to political trauma. This systematic review, comprising 35 studies that included a total of 4365 young children, examined the effects of exposure to war, conflict and terrorism on young children and the influence of parental factors on these effects. Results showed that effects include PTSD and post-traumatic stress symptoms, behavioral and emotional symptoms, sleep problems, disturbed play, and psychosomatic symptoms. Correlations emerged between parental and children's psychopathology and, additionally, family environment and parental functioning emerged as moderators of the exposure-outcome association for children.

Keywords: PTSD; Parental functioning; Psychopathology; War; Young children.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Armed Conflicts / psychology*
  • Child Development
  • Child Welfare*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exposure to Violence* / prevention & control
  • Exposure to Violence* / psychology
  • Family Relations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mental Health*
  • Psychopathology
  • Terrorism / psychology*
  • Warfare*