Parental Suffering and Resilience Among Recently Displaced Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

  • Bree AkessonEmail author
  • Cindy Sousa
Original Paper



Parents are an essential source of constancy and support, and effectively promote children’s resilience even in adversity. To build on this potential, however, more information is needed about the realities of refugee parents in situations of extreme adversity such as war and displacement.


The present study draws upon data from collaborative family interviews with 46 families (n = 351) who fled Syria and are now living as refugees in Lebanon.


The findings describe the challenges parents faced and the ways they attempted to endure within three temporal dimensions: the past (pre-flight and flight); the present (initial resettlement in the Lebanon); and the future (hopes and aspirations for resettlement). From the start of the war, parents’ foremost priority was protecting their children. Parents spoke about distress caused by family separation, and the loss of the norms, social support, and sense of parental efficacy. Parents also described their own mental health issues related to war and displacement, which influenced their parenting. At the same time, parents’ narratives highlighted how they continued—and even amplified—their caregiving. Parents comforted and distracted their children to help them endure the challenging realties of war and displacement. In Lebanon, parents restricted their children’s mobility to try to keep them safe, provided moral guidance, increased family closeness and communication, and planned for children’s futures, particularly through education.


Programs to support child protection must broaden the focus to include the whole family unit, specifically the mental health of caregivers as a means of supporting family wellbeing. (250/250 words).


Syrian refugees parenting War Displacement Family Resilience 



This study was funded by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant #430-2015-00650).

Author Contributions

BA designed and executed the study, conducted the initial data analysis, co-wrote the first draft, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. CS conducted a secondary data analysis, co-wrote the first draft, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standards

All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Wilfrid Laurier University Research Ethics Board (#5013) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Akesson, B. (2015). School as a place of violence and hope: tensions of education in post-intifada Palestine. International Journal of Educational Development, 41, 192–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akesson, B., & Badawi, D. (2020). “My heart feels chained”: The effects of economic precarity on Syrian refugee parents living in Lebanon. In C.W. Greenbaum, M.M. Haj-Yahia, & C. Hamilton (Eds), Handbook of political violence and children: Psychological effects, intervention and prevention policy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Akesson, B., & Coupland, K. (2018). Seeking safety, finding fear: Syrian families’ experiences of (im)mobility and the implications for children’s rights. Canadian Journal of Children’s Rights, 5(1), 6–29.Google Scholar
  4. American Psychological Association (APA). (2010). Resilience and recovery after war: Refugee children and families in the United States. Washington, DC: APA.Google Scholar
  5. Barber, B. K. (2013). Annual research review: the experience of youth with political conflict-challenging notions of resilience and encouraging research refinement. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 54(4), 461–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belsky, J., & de Haan, M. (2011). Annual research review: parenting and children’s brain development: the end of the beginning. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 52(4), 409–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Betancourt, TheresaS., Abdi, S., Ito, B., Lilienthal, G. M., Agalab, N., & Ellis, H. (2015). We left one war and came to another: resource loss, acculturative stress, and caregiver-child relationships in Somali refugee families. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21(1), 114–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Betancourt, T. S. (2015). The intergenerational effect of war. Journal of the American Medical Association, Psychiatry, 72(3), 199–200.Google Scholar
  9. Betancourt, T. S., & Khan, K. T. (2008). The mental health of children affected by armed conflict: protective processes and pathways to resilience. International Review of Psychiatry, 20(3), 317–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss ume 1, London, UK: Hogarth Press. Attachment.Google Scholar
  11. Bradley, R. H. (2007). Parenting in the breach: how parents help children cope with developmentally challenging circumstances. Parenting, 7(2), 99–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cummings, E. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., Schermerhorn, A. C., Merrilees, C. E., & Cairns, E. (2009). Children and political violence from a social ecological perspective: Implications from research on children and families in Northern Ireland. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12(1), 16–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eggerman, M., & Panter-Brick, C. (2010). Suffering, hope, and entrapment: resilience and cultural values in Afghanistan. Social Science & Medicine, 71(1), 71–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. El-Khani, A., Ulph, F., Peters, S., & Calam, R. (2016). Syria: the challenges of parenting in refugee situations of immediate displacement. Intervention, 14(2), 99–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Escot, R., Maufouz, M., Saade, I. F., & Varady, C. J. (2016). Insights into Syrian refugee children’s mental health status and coping mechanisms. Beirut, Lebanon: Caritas Lebanon Migrants Center.Google Scholar
  16. Fazel, M., & Betancourt, T. S. (2018). Preventive mental health interventions for refugee children and adolescents in high-income settings. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 2(2), 121–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Field, T. (2010). Postpartum depression effects on early interactions, parenting, and safety practices: a review. Infant Behavior & Development, 33(1), 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Freud, A., & Burlingham, D. T. (1943). War and children. New York: Medical war books.Google Scholar
  19. Gavidia‐Payne, S., Denny, B., Davis, K., Francis, A., & Jackson, M. (2015). Parental resilience: a neglected construct in resilience research. Clinical Psychologist, 19(3), 111–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Government of Lebanon, & United Nations. (2017). Lebanon Crisis Response Plan: 2017–2020. Beirut, Lebanon: Government of Lebanon (GoL) and the United Nations (UN).
  21. Lazarus, R. S. (2000). Evolution of a model of stress, coping and discrete emotions. In V. H. Rice (Ed.), Handbook of stress, coping, and health: Implications for nursing research, theory, and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  22. Lustig, S. L., Kia-Keating, M., Knight, W. G., Geltman, P., Ellis, H., Kinzie, J. D., & Saxe, G. N. (2004). Review of child and adolescent refugee mental health. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(1), 24–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mercy Corps. (2014). Advancing adolescence: “Getting Syrian refugee and host-community adolescents back on track.” Portland, OR: Mercy Corps.
  24. Murphy, K., Rodrigues, K., Costigan, J., & Annan, J. (2017). Raising children in conflict: An integrative model of parenting in war. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 23(1), 46–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Newnham, E. A., Kashyap, S., Tearne, J., & Fazel, M. (2018). Child mental health in the context of war: An overview of risk factors and interventions for refugee and war-affected youth. In N. Morina & A. Nickerson (Eds), Mental Health of Refugee and Conflict-Affected Populations: Theory, Research and Clinical Practice (pp. 37–63). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Reed, R. V., Fazel, M., Jones, L., Panter-Brick, C., & Stein, A. (2012). Mental health of displaced and refugee children resettled in low-income and middle-income countries: Risk and protective factors. The Lancet, 379(9812), 250–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Reidy, E. (2018). Will Lebanon force a million Syrian refugees to return to a war zone? The Nation.
  28. Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., Siegel, B. S., Dobbins, M. I., Earls, M. F., McGuinn, L., & Wood, D. L. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232–e246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sidel, V. W., & Levy, B. S. (2008). The health impact of war. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 15(4), 189–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sim, A., Fazel, M., Bowes, L., & Gardner, F. (2018). Pathways linking war and displacement to parenting and child adjustment: a qualitative study with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Social Science & Medicine, 200, 19–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sirin, S. R., & Rogers-Sirin, L. (2015). The educational and mental health needs of Syrian refugee children. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  32. Slobodin, O., & de Jong, J. T. V. M. (2015). Family interventions in traumatized immigrants and refugees: a systematic review. Transcultural Psychiatry, 52(6), 723–742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sousa, C. A. (2013). Political violence, collective functioning and health: a review of the literature. Medicine, Conflict, and Survival, 29(3), 169–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sousa, C. A., Haj-Yahia, M. M., Feldman, G., & Lee, J. (2013). Individual and collective dimensions of resilience within political violence. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 14(3), 235–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ungar, M. (2011). The social ecology of resilience: Addressing contextual and cultural ambiguity of a nascent construct. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNICEF, Beirut, Lebanon: UNHCR, UNICEF, & WFP. (2018). Vulnerability assessment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon: VASYR 2018.Google Scholar
  37. Walsh, F. (2016). Strengthening family resilience. 3rd edition New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  38. Williams, N. (2010). Establishing the boundaries and building bridges: a literature review on ecological theory: implications for research into the refugee parenting experience. Journal of Child Health Care, 14(1), 35–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Winnicott, D. W. (1991). The child, the family, and the outside world. London, UK: Penguin Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Social WorkWilfrid Laurier UniversityBrantfordCanada
  2. 2.Graduate School of Social Work and Social ResearchBryn Mawr CollegeBryn MawrUSA

Personalised recommendations