Impact of War Trauma on Kids IQ

The Ukraine- Russia war is upon us. This global conflict gives one pause to think about the negative effects and harmful impacts of war, terrorism and trauma on our kids. Chaos and conflict  caused by terror and criminal violence might impact your child’s intelligence quotient (IQ). “How how so?” parents  might ask.

Before we broach the subject of IQ, intelligence quotient, cognitive functioning and cognitive abilities, let’s take a look at general war statistics first. According to the American Journal of American Psychiatry: Residents’ Journal, “over one billion children worldwide inhabit countries or territories torn apart by armed conflict, war or terrorism.” In many countries, “armed conflict can last throughout an entire childhood.” Global conflict, war and terrorism has led to the displacement of almost 60 million refugees with about half of those (30 million) were children under the age of 18, reports the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

Risks associated with War and Terrorism
Researchers previously overlooked the negative effects of war on children. Even parents of children who have experienced trauma either:

  • denied that the initial effects upon their children, or they
  • underestimated their child’s post traumatic reactions to the trauma.

Why were childhood risks related to war, trauma and terrorism dismissed by adults? Experts theorize that in times past, the distress of children who have experienced war, witnessed violence, and were impacted by terrorism may have been overlooked because of children’s difficulties in verbally communicating their feelings related to their experience. Further, experts on not off the hook either. Many previously believed that children who have witnessed violence related to war and terrorism, did not understand or may not remember traumatic occurrences.

Today, however, there is increasing awareness that children are indeed vulnerable to the stresses of war and terrorism. But when are you going to talk about IQ?

It looks like parents don’t need to look across the globe for evidence of the destruction of war. I have an anecdotal story to tell you. Parents, please listen up. A few moths ago, I was asked to administer a cognitive functioning (IQ) test to a student. The student scored solidly in the average range (90-110), in fact her score was 107. Given a few more points, she would have scored in the high average range, where less than 16% of the population have the intellectual abilities to do so. Why is this story important, parents might ask.

In reviewing the student’s educational records, the child that I assessed, had just one year prior, obtained an FSIQ (Full Scale Intellectual Quotient) of around 85, which is situated in the low average range. This is the level is pretty crowded. Its where an estimated 68% of the US population are estimated to have cognitive functioning abilities within this 85-110 range.

But, what does this have to do with war, terrorism and trauma? Well, it just so happens that the student that I assessed had moved from urban war torn, crime-ridden Baltimore, Maryland and had witnessed significant violence  to a crime-free quiet suburb. Is it possible that a change in environment can impact a child’s IQ. Of course.

For instance, a study appearing in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry identified that the negative effects of war on children (attack on 9/11 on World Trade Center), in this instance,  are very real. Here are their findings:

  • 15% of New York City school children surveyed had developed symptoms of agoraphobia,
  • 12% developed separation anxiety,
  • 10% developed generalized anxiety, and
  • 9% developed panic attacks.

Another study in which the participants were children  living in Baghdad, Iraq during the Iraq War found that the mental stress associated with the child witnessing any type of explosion and insecure (unsafe) family living and housing led to detrimental child intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. The researchers of the Baghdad war study cited other research to show that “intensive and continuous exposure to multiple stressful events in conflict and disaster settings is a major risk factor for negative mental health consequences for children and adolescents.”


Freemont, WP, “Childhood Reactions to Terrorism Induced Trauma: A Review of the Past 10 Years,” Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 2004; 43 (4), pg. 381-392.

Ghazi, Hasanain, Isa, Zaleha, Aljunid, Syed, et al, “The Negative Impact of Living Environment on Intelligence Quotient of Primary School Children in Baghdad City, Iraq: A Cross-sectional Study,” BMC Public Health, 2012, 12, 562.

Liu, Michelle, “War and Children,” The American Journal of Psychiatry: Residents’ Journal, Volume 12, Issue 7, 2017.