Exploring Mental Health and Development in Refugee Children Through Systematic Play Assessment

Katharina Bernhardt, Saskia Le Beherec, Jana Uppendahl, Marie Anna Baur, Matthias Klosinski, Volker Mall, Andrea Hahnefeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


To evaluate a standardized play observation as a measure of young children’s mental health and development in a clinical and refugee population. We conducted individual play observations with 70 refugee children aged 3- to 6-years and compared them to a clinical group of 111 age-matched children regarding their level of play development, social interaction during play, traumatic re-enactments, and emotionless-cold play. Additionally, we assessed children’s mental health, social-emotional development and markers of adversity by parent and educator report as well as their IQ-test scores and learning performance and related these factors to the play variables. Play variables were significantly correlated with IQ-test scores (r = 0.184, p = 0.037), learning performance (r = 0.208, p = 0.010) and vocabulary (r = 0.208, p = 0.021) in the comparison group and with social-emotional development in educator report (r = 0.368, p = 0.011), time spent in Germany (r = 0.342, p < 0.001) and parental distress (r = − 0.292, p = 0.034) in the refugee group. Children with more parent-reported adverse experiences showed less social-interactive play in the overall sample (r = − 0.178, p = 0.011). Our child-centered approach to standardized play observation augments information obtained from parent and educator reports and can provide valuable insights in subgroups where other commonly used tests are not available or applicable.

Original languageEnglish
JournalChild psychiatry and human development
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Child
  • Development
  • Displacement
  • Migration
  • Play observation
  • Trauma


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