The bereaved children and teens with whom I worked in the Koby Mandell Foundation taught me much about coping with fear and trauma, as well as the universal human need to feel that we are in a safe place. During these difficult times when all of us – adults and children – are concerned for our security, we strive – and sometimes have to struggle – to create a safe internal and environmental space.
As Olim – old and new – you have been investing so much physical and emotional energy creating a safe place for yourselves and your families, And here you are now, faced with another challenge – heartbreaking and seemingly overwhelming, one you share with all of your fellow Israelis.
Respect your anxiety, but try not to let it rule over you. You are concerned for yourselves and for those you love – and for your country and your people. Acknowledge to yourselves and to your children that it makes sense to be anxious. At the same time, recognize that you can reinforce your coping strategies, and incorporate new ones.
Following are some tools that can help make the process more manageable.
Being informed gives us – and our children – some much needed sense of control. What we learn, what we share, and how we help one another must be tailored to each individual’s ways of coping. Some of us need to know everything about everything, while others only want to know enough to stay safe.
Balance the need to be informed, with overexposure to the news – particularly scenes of violence. You may feel that by turning off the news, you are betraying the victims by ‘turning away’ from them. You will never ‘turn away’. And you have an obligation to take care of your ‘self’.
Our bodies respond to each viewing of violence and heartbreak by tensing up as if it were its first exposure. This is a primitive response, originally intended to help us avoid danger – fight, flight, freeze. It’s a great asset in the jungle – but in our living rooms, repeated exposure reinforces anxiety. Know when to push the OFF button on televisions and phones. (Always turn it off when children and vulnerable adults are in the room!)
The uncertainty created by random attacks necessitates reevaluating your life style. You are setting new restrictions on your movements, and on those of your children – not meeting friends in public areas, not permitting young children to go to the playground on their own. Some changes are for your own peace of mind; your kids might not like it, but your role as parents is to find the healthy balance of your needs and theirs. Be lovingly firm about limitations and expectations
Answers to young children’s questions should contain information that they need or ask for – and no more.
Children may ask the same questions over and over, requiring a great deal of patience on your part! Keep in mind that they are comforted by repetition – remember how many times you read Good Night, Moon!?
Let them know that you are doing all you can to keep them safe.
Review family rules, be lovingly firm about limitations that keep them safe. Structure provides security
Tell them about our chayalim and police and the Iron Dome.
If prayer is a part of your family’s world, encourage them to pray – being clear that G*D responds to our prayers in His way.
Try to avoid promises that you can’t keep.
Feel free to acknowledge that you are afraid – and tell them what you do to help yourself feel less afraid.
Ask them what would help them be less afraid.
We all know that teens process the world in their own unpredictable ways. They are struggling to develop independence, values, identity – and need a stable environment in which to grow. Your job is to create as stable an environment in the home as possible.
Maintain house rules, sprinkled with explanations, patience and understanding.
Help them find ways to give to the community. Teen participants in Camp Koby often describe a sense of accomplishment and significance when helping others.
Encourage them to meet with friends in person whenever possible.
Talk with them! Share your concerns, your sadness, your hopes – and listen to theirs.
Empowerment is a wonderful antidote to anxiety, and helping others provides a sense of empowerment and self-worth. Organize prayer and learning groups, help families whose lives are disrupted, invite a neighbor in for a cuppa’, prepare meals for relocated families… Children can send letters and drawings to our security forces – they do get them, and love them!!!!
Maintain a Routine
Maintaining as much of our routine as possible gives us a sense of security and familiarity. Engage in physical activity, get a good night’s sleep, and eat a healthy diet (including appropriate doses of Bamba as necessary!)
Give your baby/toddler a body-cream massage, play action expressive games with young children, and board games with friends and family. Listen to music, do relaxation exercises, organize family photographs, learn with others, laugh together…. We are allowed to – indeed, we are required to – have fun! All these, and more, help us maintain a healthy balance of mind and body.
SIGNS FOR CONCERN
Be alert to changes in your own and your loved ones’ behavior (i.e. regressive behaviors among young children, isolation among teens). Some changes are appropriate and adaptive – young children might cling to a parent or teacher, teens and adults may become (more) dependent on others. Such behaviors should resolve themselves as the situation improves. If these behaviors continue a while after your lives should have returned to normal, speak with the child’s ganenet or teacher and counselor, or seek professional help for yourself. (For more information about the impact of trauma on adults and children, see www.traumaweb.com)
Tough times are tough – and these are tough times. Use this time to strengthen and reinforce loving support and strength within yourselves, friends and families. These qualities will serve you well during this critical time, and in good times as well!
Jackie Goldman served as Coordinator of Counseling, Support Services, and Therapeutic Arts of the Koby Mandell Foundation for bereaved families, and Group Facilitator for the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma/Metiv Resilience Unit. She can be reached at [email protected]