This article is by writer and play therapist, Benji Gabler BSW MSc. Benji Gabler is the Clinical Coordinator at Children’s Town – Yad Rachel. Available for private consultations in Jerusalem. Bengabler@gmail.com ; 054-641-8904
One of the most uncomfortable feelings as a parent is one in which we feel and/or we are practically limited in our ability to provide safety and security for our children. Most people protect their children especially the younger ones from revealing how or what is going on which is possibility threating to them. This is wise only if we are certain the child would not reveal the information in another way or would be so overwhelmed by the fear it would be wiser to avoid letting them know what happened.
Other children would find out through friends or the news or just overhearing adults conversation so finding a way to discuss the information is important.
What we don’t say. Our kids are not our therapists. They don’t need to hear how scared we are or about the graphic details of the attacks. Railing on the PM or the army or the Arabs focusing on the helplessness of the situation is also unhelpful. Making sure they don’t see any or as little as possible of the endless angles of footage from the attacks is critical as well.
What we do say: Give them a framework in which to understand what’s going on. For example a set of beliefs in which to frame the events of the last week. Whether it is historical, ethical or based on your view of the political situation. Helping them understand the “Why” is a foundation of explaining the “What”. Use terms that they might know from home or school that have been useful in the past in dealing with loss or tragedy.
After setting the basis for the conflict move on to the events themselves using only facts. Reading from a prepared news article could be helpful as well.
Focus on the efforts of the Israel Police – משטרת ישראל, IDF, Secret Service or other individuals in your child’s mind (like a cousin or neighbor) that are actively focusing on the protection of those at risk. Just as the PM stands in front of the camera and promises to protect us we provide the same experience for our children. Whether we trust Bibi or not we are like the PM to our children.
It’s important to correct misinformation your son or daughter might have heard and again return to discuss how we can protect them.
Being in touch with their emotions is a quality which is important and being aware of them is the first step to controlling the feelings. Our children have the ability to process the information we give them in order to lower their anxiety level as the facts provide a degree of certainty in our uncertain world. Showing them on a map the dangerous areas and showing how far we are or sharing with them how the family will be taking steps to be safer during this period, is helpful as well.
Remember that anxiety is a healthy mental and bodily response to a legitimate risk of physical harm. As adults we have practiced calming our fears in the past or have internal defense mechanisms that can help us continue to function, as difficult as it is. Kids, as resilient as they are, might have a tougher time.
Each child processes the information in a unique way and it’s likely they will react differently. Additionally, before trips through more volatile areas, try to be more sensitive to your own anxiety level and how it effects your children’s affect. Some children need more soothing before bedtime and others may regress to behaviors that are less appropriate; like fear of being alone or going to crowded places. You might need to change your routine temporarily in order to slowly allow an adjustment to their reactions to their fears or anxieties.
Most importantly, we know how scary it is so we can identify with their feelings or questions they might have. Finding something to do such as prayer, writing letters, going for a walk or keeping busy with day to day events is a great way to channel or process the feelings they or we are going through.