Reassure & validate

How to talk to your children about Israel

The world is struggling at the moment. So, as parents struggle, how can they best help their children understand and deal with the situation?

At this very moment, parents around the world are having some very tough conversations with their children. They are being asked questions that they may not have the answers to, figuring out how to walk the fine line between giving their children with vital information yet shielding them.

So, how can we talk to our children about what’s going on in Israel at the moment?

Therapist, mediator, and counsellor, Kelly Sacks told The AJN that talking to children about war and violence can be a necessary step in helping to learn how to process tragedy. But we need to know how to process the information ourselves and break it down into facts for little people to understand.

Sacks said there are several steps parents and carers should be taking during this time to help children process what is going on.

Show a united front

Always make sure that both parents are on the same page with what information to share and how to share it. According to Sacks, you cannot control what is said to your children by others, whether that’s teachers, friends, or other family members, but you can control what goes on within the four walls of your home.

“Provide a united front and be extremely reassuring, validating and empathetic towards what they’re feeling,” Sacks said, explaining that if you’re on different wavelengths, it can become confusing and scary for young children.

Limit the news

“At the end of the day, you’re the adult, you’re in charge,” Sacks said. “Remember, these images are harrowing for us to see. If you’re concerned about [your children] seeing them, don’t have the news on.”

Switch off the news when the kids are around – on TV and radio – and steer clear of your phone if there’s a potential for them to lean over your shoulder to take a peak.

Sacks also suggested having plans in place for phones, especially for the older kids, for example, leaving them at the front door, when kids get home from school. Explain to your kids why you’re enforcing the rule. Tell them that it’s not healthy to see the images. In this time also, remember that images are circulating, and we don’t want our children, no matter how old, exposed to them. Limit their use and monitor it carefully, and if necessary, remove their social media apps all together.

You’re the number one source

Make sure your children know that you are the number one source of information.

“It can be very easy for people who are on the right side of the news to misconstrue information,” Sacks said. “You should always be their best resource for all the facts.”

This means that you need to be educated on the facts. Sacks said that if you’re unsure, it’s ok to tell your child that you don’t have all the answers, but that you’ll do some research and get back to them.

If you can, have conversations with your close family members who will be around your children and ask them to refer the kids to you if they have questions. A simple ‘let’s ask mummy or daddy to answer that when we get home’ will ensure that united front stays in tack and that your child is exposed to the information you want them exposed to. Of course, everyone slips from time to time but ask your family members to watch their language when little ears are listening are well.

Check in regularly and constantly reassure

It’s important to check in with your child to see what they know about the situation and how they feel. This should be continuous. Don’t presume you know what they’re thinking or feeling. “Respond to the concerns they share, remembering that their worries and feelings might not be what you think they are or what your worries and feelings are,” Sacks said.

And constantly reassure your children that they are safe. For younger kids especially, they may not understand how far away Israel and the war is, so they are scared that the war is just around the corner; that they are in danger. You need to make sure they understand this is not the case, despite the increased security they may be seeing.

One thing you can do is show them what’s good in the world, for example all the landmarks that are showing support, the way people are helping financially, and even how the community is banding together to help.

Watch your words and tone

Finally, be careful about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it when the children are around. They may not be part of the conversation, but they are listening and watching your every move.

“Children often listen when adults are unaware and they may misconstrue what they hear, they fill in the blanks which spawns inaccuracies, and this increases their distress. Monitor the tone of your discussions. As you express your views, [moinitor] how angry you’re becoming or if you’re becoming aggressive. Try to be as calm as possible when children may be around,” Sacks said.

When it comes to families who have children of varying ages, talk to each child at their emotional level, using age-appropriate language.

Sacks shared in an Instagram post that children aged up to four shouldn’t see or hear anything, as they can’t distinguish between fact and fiction.

Children aged between four and six tend to relate everything to themselves. They think if bombs fall there, they will also fall here, so shield and reassure them as much as possible.

From six to ten years old are when things get a bit tricky, as they are affected by their environment. Sacks acknowledged that total shielding is no longer possible, and this is where all the reassuring language and checking in must happen.

With the older children, there are obviously more facts you can give them, but they must be aware that information should be discussed out of the younger sibling’s earshot.

“Sit down with the older kids and say ‘your sister or brother does not need to be privy to all this information, I’m sure you can appreciate why it’s distressing’,” Sacks suggested. Explain that you’re happy to discuss things on a deeper level with them, but that their siblings don’t need to be exposed to it. “That is sometimes the burden of growing up. Give them the responsibility of helping to look after their younger sibling and protect them for as long as possible.”

Sacks said that while they may slip from time to time, older siblings will mostly take this on board.

Look after yourself

When it comes to your own mental and emotional wellbeing while caring for children, Sacks said to be kind to yourself.

“Don’t have an expectation of yourself to be a superhero. Look after yourself. Practice self-care.” Sacks said if you don’t want to go to the gym, don’t go to the gym. If you want the distraction of meeting your friend for a meal, meet your friend for a meal. There’s no right or wrong way to emotionally deal.

“As adults, we have to try to keep it as normal as possible, but I think to have an expectation on yourself to wake up and go about your business as usual, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Sacks said. “Even people who are not extremely Zionistic are still waking up today and struggling. You don’t have to be Jewish to struggle. Don’t beat yourself up.”

Be authentic with your children

Finally, keep it authentic with your children. Explain to them that you’re upset because you’re passionate about Israel or that you’re sad about being people hurt. But, don’t dwell on it with them. “You still have to be the parent; you don’t have that option of crumbling into 100 pieces because you have to be strong for your little child, and their routine and their life goes on.”

Importantly, Sacks said that in any conversation you have, especially with younger kids, keep it short and simple, always validate their emotions and constantly reassure them.

“If you must constantly provide reassurance for months on end, that’s what you have to do,” she said. “Always reassure your children that they are safe.”

read more: