Recent conflicts in Israel, and also the Ukraine, have given us the opportunity to think about how to talk about war with children of all ages. Before doing so however, as parents, we may need to think through our own thoughts and feelings about war and casualties. We are hearing on the news about the kidnappings of Israeli children, men, women, and soldiers, news of missile attacks, military assaults against Israeli towns, and the wounded and fatalities caused by Hamas militants. The stress of the information, which is all consuming with our 24-hour news cycle and social media, is a lot for those of all ages.
As we talk to children, and even to other adults, we should begin by taking a breath and trying to answer as calmly and rationally as possible. Then, it may be helpful to emphasize our safety here in the United States, and to show compassion for all who are affected here and in Israel. All children need to know that they are safe and it is helpful to reassure them that adults, teachers, and parents are working hard to keep them safe. A map of Israel and its distance from the United States may be useful with your safety discussions.
With children of all ages try to be careful with your language and emotions in describing events. Children will respond to the calm expression of emotions and factual information. Then, be sensitive to the age of the child when answering these questions.
While parents of young children will want to wait until the child brings up the subject of war and death, this is more difficult when a child is in school and may get information from teachers and other students. Parents of school-aged children can start by asking teachers and school administrators what teachings may be already shared as part of the curriculum.
For younger elementary and middle school age kids start by asking them what they already understand about the war in Israel. Check in with them about their feelings and emotions. Let them discuss their understanding of the war, and support discussion of their feelings.
With high school kids, try to understand where they are coming from emotionally. Let them share what they may already know from social media and news. Try to avoid stereotypes like good and bad people, and emphasize safety and if or how they may be able to offer help of some kind. This may also be a good time to monitor social media usage as disturbing footage or information may be available.
In general, addressing your children’s questions and fears in an age-appropriate, calm manner, while listening to their concerns, and assuring them they are safe can go a long way in calming their fears.