As parents and caregivers, our primary concern is ensuring the well-being of our children. During times of global turmoil, such as the recent attack by Hamas in Israel on October 7 and the ensuing conflict, our natural instinct is to shield them from distressing events. However, children are perceptive and can sense when something is amiss, whether it’s from snippets of news they overhear, conversations with peers, or our own demeanor.
While our inclination may be to protect them from the harsh realities of the world, experts concur that it’s crucial to have open discussions. Parenting expert Dr. Becky Kennedy succinctly expressed the challenge many parents face, “There are no ‘right’ words for events in the world that are so wrong.” Despite this, it’s essential for parents to offer support and guidance to their children during this unprecedented and constantly evolving situation. The approach to discussing the Israel-Hamas conflict with children varies depending on their age and the extent to which they have been directly impacted by the attacks and ensuing turmoil. Here, insights from experts Dr. Dity Brunn and Dr. Itamar Barnea shed light on communicating with children about the ongoing events.
– **Dr. Dity Brunn**, a Clinical Psychologist and Professor at Pepperdine University, is also a Board Member at American Friends of NATAL, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center. Dr. Brunn specializes in early mental health interventions.
– **Dr. Itamar Barnea** serves as the Chief Psychologist at NATAL and is the recipient of AFNATAL’s 2023 Humanitarian Award.
## Reassure Their Safety
UNICEF emphasizes that children constantly seek a sense of safety and security from their parents, especially during crises. It’s important to reassure young children that they are safeguarded and that their parents or caregivers are there for them.
Dr. Brunn and Dr. Barnea highlighted the significance of being present for children, providing them with an opportunity to reassure and support others. They suggested activities such as making phone calls to loved ones together and expressing solidarity by saying, “We are together and taking care of each other.”
## Inquire About Their Awareness
Licensed child and family psychologist Dr. Nina Kaiser stressed in a previous article on _The Everymom_ the importance of initiating conversations about global events with children when they begin to demonstrate awareness of these events. Dr. Kaiser recommended that parents of older children approach the discussion with curiosity, asking what they already know, what their thoughts and feelings are, and using this information to guide the conversation.
## Share Appropriate Information
Dr. Brunn and Dr. Barnea advise parents and caregivers to provide essential, reliable, and targeted information to children. It’s crucial to help children understand the situation without overwhelming them with excessive details. Dr. Kaiser also emphasized the need for parents to monitor their own thoughts and reactions during such discussions.
## Limit Exposure to Media
Dr. Barnea and Dr. Brunn advocate for restricting children’s (and adults’) exposure to media, particularly content and imagery that may not be suitable for their age. They recommend maintaining only one device in a separate room for updates, actively limiting exposure to distressing media while being responsible in its consumption and dissemination.
The news and social media often feature unsettling visuals and videos that can have a lingering impact on individuals. Despite the temptation to stay informed, it’s crucial to approach media consumption responsibly.
## Validate Their Emotions
Dr. Barnea and Dr. Brunn suggest explaining to children that the situation may evoke feelings of tension, apprehension, and anxiety in everyone. It’s crucial to validate their emotions and assure them that physical and emotional reactions, such as fear, tears, trembling, and confusion, are normal responses to the situation, as the body and brain react naturally.
## Foster Empathy
Encouraging compassion is vital in shaping children to become kind and empathetic individuals. UNICEF advocates for avoiding labels like ‘bad people’ or ‘evil,’ and using the situation as an opportunity to promote empathy, particularly for families forced to flee their homes. It’s important to remind children of the value of safety and respect for all, regardless of differences, while also discouraging discrimination and bullying in all contexts.
## Self-Care is Key
Dr. Becky emphasized the importance of self-care as the first step in being a reliable source of support for children. Dr. Barnea and Dr. Brunn further recommend various self-care measures during this challenging time:
### Engage in Distracting Activities
Get involved in playful activities, board games, word games, numbers, and memory games. This could also be a good time to organize photos on your phone or rewatch favorite TV shows.
### Relax and Stay Grounded
Practice deep breathing, focus on positive thoughts, and embrace one another. Engaging in physical activities such as stretching, yoga, jumping, strength training, or dancing can be highly beneficial. Offering support and exchanging smiles, even if forced, can be powerful gestures during difficult times.
### Nurture Hope
Dr. Barnea and Dr. Brunn reassured that the ongoing situation will eventually come to an end. They emphasize the importance of maintaining a calm and reassuring environment for oneself and loved ones. It’s essential to reflect on what can bring solace and make the current situation more manageable.
## Extending Support
Given the evolving nature of the crisis and the widespread impact, it’s important to check on friends and loved ones directly affected by the attacks and the unfolding crisis. No one should endure such traumatic experiences alone.
### Helping Families Affected
For those inclined to contribute aid to those affected in Israel and Palestine, consider donating to recognized organizations such as:
– American Friends of Magen David Adom
– Palestine Children’s Relief Fund
– Doctors Without Borders
– Save the Children