The violence happening in Israel and Gaza is gut-wrenching and awful. There’s just no other way to put it. And for many of us, it may feel close to home as we navigate the direct impacts on our own communities, families and friendships. And because we live in the digital age where information is readily available, kids are going to hear about this. And they’re going to have questions.
Most of us don’t even know how to process this information ourselves, let alone how to explain it to young, impressionable minds. But children are tougher than we give them credit for, and it’s important for caregivers to create a safe space to help them make sense of their world – especially at times like this.
So, how exactly do you have this conversation? Brightline has gathered and summarized recommendations from internal and external experts to help guide you through it.
Consider YOUR children
Every child is different. Literally - different ages, personalities, levels of development and most importantly different approaches to moments of distress. Take this into account when you plan your conversation. For example, if your child tends to have high anxiety, start the conversation by supporting them with feeling safe and grounded in the present moment. Older children might have more complex questions, and want a longer discussion.
It’s not easy, but start this conversation. You can do so by asking your children if/what they’ve heard about the situation. Use an open-ended question such as “Have you heard anything about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine?” And see what they say and take it from there..
As they tell you what they have heard about the situation, listen to understand their feelings and concerns. Praise their empathy and compassion when you see it. They might be feeling confused, and we should acknowledge that it’s OK to be confused. We should acknowledge our own confusion too, and do our best to correct any misunderstandings, harmful generalizations, or dehumanizing language that we hear. But more than anything, try to understand what’s causing them distress so that you can offer support.
Make room for a wide range of feelings
As adults, many of us may already be feeling overwhelmed and distressed by what is happening. For children, these emotions are even greater and could be different from ours. Some children may be afraid of being targeted or bullied because of their identity, appearance, religion, or community. Some may be feeling grief, hopelessness, or anger about what is happening. Ask children specifically what is worrying them, and come up with ways to help your child feel safe and supported.
Provide reassurance and open communication
Ensuring safety is key. Answer every question directly, as best you can, with accurate and up-to-date information. Help them identify ways to cope with anxiety, sadness and fears. Let them know that you’re here for them, and that they can bring this up again. This conversation doesn’t have to end once you’ve explained; follow their lead to see what they need from you as time goes on.
Take compassionate action
Many people across the world are stepping up to help Israelis and Palestinians affected by the violence. Share these efforts with your children. If they want to help, provide resources and avenues for getting involved, learning more, or participating in advocacy or allyship. If you need help with this conversation, you can reach out to Brightline, or your pediatrician, a teacher or school counselor, mental health professional or member of the clergy for advice. Take advantage of counseling, therapy and support whenever you think it will be helpful.
Go easy on yourself
No one knows the perfect thing to say. And it doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be open, honest and reassuring. Once kids have more information, they’re in a better place to deal with the emotional responses they may have to the news. The fact that you’re researching how to discuss this is an important step towards setting your child up for success.
Discussing violence and war with children is never an easy subject, but it’s important. Here are more resources for approaching the conversation.
Please reach out to Brightline if you have any questions or want further advice on this topic. You want to be there for your kids, and we want to be there for you.