Our children are vulnerable. They need to be protected from so many of the horrors of the war, but they also need to be told what is happening in the war inIsrael in a way that is honest but not traumatizing.
Dr. Eva Fogelman, Phd., a world-renowned psychotherapist in private practice who pioneered therapeutic techniques for generations of the Holocaust, shared some of her thoughts and advice with Our Children.
Our Children: What is the best way to address a child who is asking questions about the war?
Dr. Eva Fogelman: There is no “one size fits all.” Answers to children need to be age-appropriate, and individualized to conform to the maturity of the child.
To pre-school and elementary-school youngsters, explain that far away from here there are bad people called Hamas who hurt Jews in Israel. When a person damages you and causes pain, you fight back.
To elementary schoolers show them a map, and explain that a group of Palestinians who live in Gaza, called Hamas, broke through the fence and harmed Jews living by the border. The Israeli army is now fighting back. This is a very sad time because people get killed in a war.
For students in middle school, you can provide more details about Hamas being a terrorist group among the Palestinians living in Gaza. They attacked towns and army bases on the border between Gaza and Israel and killed Jewish Israelis, and some they took as hostages to Gaza. The Israeli army is now fighting back. Explain that we are worried about this war situation. Please don’t watch any social media to get information about Israel and Hamas. There is too much misinformation and upsetting pictures that may not be factually accurate. It is best to read some reliable Jewish sources and not to watch television or social media.
As for high-school students, they by now know more of the gory details of Hamas’s attack on the residents of Kibbutzim and towns near the Gaza border. These students are aware of the tragic murder of Israelis, the injured, and the hostages. In this war there are deaths of Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s goal now is to destroy Hamas’ military capability. Again, a warning not to rely on social media for information about the ‘ongoing battle is warranted.
Our Children: What can students do during this critical moment in Jewish history?
For those in Jewish day schools, this is the time to make morning prayers meaningful. It is a time to add tehilim (psalms) prayers for Israeli soldiers who are risking their lives, citing names of those who have been killed who may be relatives or acquaintances of community members, and praying for the lives of the hostages. Saying tehilim for special people one knows during different times of the day.
There are numerous organizations raising funds that are needed to keep the war machinery going and helping those who have been evacuated. You may want to contact your local Jewish Federation or the American Friends of Israel Defense Force office in New York to find out what is most needed during this time.
Organizing various fundraising events such as a bike ride, a sale of a product, a theater performance. If you have relatives in Israel, contact them regularly to show that you are with them, and they are not alone.
Jewish students, in particular, need to educate themselves about the history of Zionism and Israel. For example, Arthur Hertzberg’s, “The Zionist Idea” is excellent at providing context. Educating oneself about Jewish history is important in preparing oneself for entering the adult world and particularly college campuses.
Our Children: How to talk to your children about death?
Dr. Eva Fogelman: When a child asks about death, think of answers that are age appropriate. Avoid using euphemisms, such as “went to sleep.” The tone needs to be sympathetic and convey warmth. Do not be hesitant to share your own emotions and grief.
In our current war situation, to preschoolers explain when someone has certain body parts broken it can’t be fixed like when a toy is broken and can’t be used. A person can no longer breathe. The body is calm, restful, and peaceful. You will know what more to say depending on the question that a child asks.
Rabbi Earl A. Grollman has written a book, “Talking about Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child,” which I recommend.
If you are crying in front of your child, it is okay to let your child experience that it is normal and healthy to cry and feel sad when confronted with losses.
It is healthy and healing to cry together. A child experiences crying together as a normal process of losing a loved one.
Our Children: How best to quell a child’s fear when
there is so much to be afraid of?
Dr. Eva Fogelman: Share stories that promote heroism and empowerment. Talk about the heroic Israeli army who will wipe out the Hamas terrorists.
Be particularly more available to spend time with your child at this time. Let your child know how to reach you at any time.
Our Children: When there are relatives who are
suffering or even have died in the war so far, how do you best communicate with the child about this if questions arise?
Dr. Eva Fogelman: If one of your relatives or someone you know was murdered in a barbaric manner it is best to avoid the gory details with your children. It is enough that you as an adult is living with the brutal images. Do not speak about the incident so that your child will eavesdrop on the conversation without you knowing. You can say, “most likely they were shot with a gun.”
If one of your relatives, friends or acquaintances was one of those killed or kidnapped in Israel, it is a good idea to inform your child’s teacher about the loss.
Our Children: Is there any way to prevent trauma?
Dr. Eva Fogelman: Some of us have already experienced a traumatic event related to Israel, and this war is triggering symptoms of a previous trauma. Be supportive.
One way to reduce the likelihood of being traumatized is to avoid watching television with its violent videos (“if it bleeds it leads”), stay away from social media. Keep up with the news by reading reliable sources in newspapers or online (The Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz).
Parents need to be vigilant in providing assurance of love and support during these traumatic times.