Hamas-Israel War: How to begin conversations with your children

By Leah Persky, PhD & CFLE • Manager of Family Life Education

The brutality of the attack on Israel is conveyed in the graphic images and details we see on the news. It is heartbreaking to see and so hard to turn away from watching this nightmare unfold. So many in the Twin Cities have close and deep ties with Israel – those with loved ones in Israel are doing all they can to support them in the face of such violence. The days since the attack have passed in a blur with such a mixture of human emotions and a tragic loss of so many lives.

It is hard to know how to talk about these events, especially with the children and young people in your life. Many of us are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotional. The question I have been pondering is how do we talk to our children about these events? We want our children to feel safe, and at the same time, we also do not want to lie or sugarcoat the situation. Our children deserve to know what is happening in an age-appropriate way.

As parents and caregivers, it is our instinct to keep our children safe; but we also know that danger exists in the world. Parents have an especially challenging job in talking about recent events that impact Jewish families so very personally. Many families have lost loved ones, their sense of security, and hope for the future.

Everyday decisions for many have become harder to make in the face of this unfolding tragedy. Decisions about going to Jewish spaces, safety, and going about our daily tasks have become harder. Many adults and children may be feeling uncertain now and everyday life is taking a back seat to the news and managing the big emotions we may feel.

Approaching challenging conversations and subjects with our children requires parents to be their most human and most open selves. You are not alone if you are feeling a sense of anxiety around it or avoiding it. Beginning the conversation about the war in Israel with your children soon in a loving and age-appropriate way is crucial. Doing so will allow them to ask you questions and they can hear the news from you, rather than other unvetted or uncontrolled sources (other kids or untrusted “news” sites online). Bringing up the topic allows time for you to check in with your child, to answer questions, address concerns they may have, and better control the information they receive. Remember that talking about traumatic events with children can help to reduce anxiety and increase understanding of the events.

Any quiet time when your family is feeling calm and not too tired is a good time to start the conversation. Here are some other suggestions about how to manage these conversations and this difficult time:

1) Watch your own media diet. Your kids will pick up on your level of stress and anxiety, so be sure to do what you need to take care of you. Limit the time you spend watching the news and being exposed to violent images. You do not need to see any graphic images to have these needed conversations with your children. Check in with yourself after consuming media and in general, less is better. If you tend to overconsume the news, set a timer for 30 minutes once or twice each day. For older children with access to a phone or computer, be sure to limit their time spent online and know what they are be exposed to.

2) Keep details to a minimum for kids age 8 and under. Ask the child what they know or have heard and go from there. Naming the location, actors, and time frame can be helpful and highlighting that your child is safe is key for this age of child. Answer questions as best as you can and be honest and brief. Here is a great resource for talking to younger children about traumatic events.

3) Meet your child where they are: For all children, begin by asking if they have heard about the events and if so, what they know. Middle and high schoolers can understand more depth and nuance. Trust your instincts about what your child needs and what is appropriate for them. For older children, talking about which news sources you trust and why is an important part of this conversation. Avoid graphic images and videos for all children.

4) Conversations can be brief: You will know if your child is receptive and able to talk about it. Also, don’t force the conversation. If your child is not ready and/or doesn’t engage, don’t worry and try again at another time. Let them know you are always there if they want to talk more.

5) Be authentic to the needs of your family. For families with relatives in Israel, this conversation will be different. Being honest, brief, and direct is the best approach. Acknowledge how hard this is, name grief as an emotion and talk about how to support each other. This isn’t easy, but it is better than avoiding the subject. You know your child best, so let your instincts guide you. Here are some additional resources about how to have discussions about hard things with CHILDREN OF ALL AGES.

6) Emphasize that your children are safe and there are many helpers all over the world. Highlight helpers in your own community and those helping in Israel.

7) Connect with community. There are events happening across the metro to offer support and prayers for Israel. There are many online events as well. Connecting with others and taking action that is manageable and authentic to you and your family allows hope to grow and connections to be made. You can find information about events here.

8) Seek out the support of a professional if you or your family need it. The grief, pain, sadness, anger, and many other emotions that people are feeling now are normal and can become hard to manage.

Trained mental health professionals and parent coaches can help support you during this time. Call JFCS and we will connect you to the support you need: 952-546-0616

While these conversations can feel overwhelming to begin, realize that you don’t need to be the expert. Bringing up the topic will increase feelings of safety and build trust between you and your children, regardless of their age.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me, the Parent Coach, if you would like more support as you navigate these conversations or other aspects of parenting kids aged two through adult. Fill out this short form and I will be in touch with you.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please call JFCS at 952-546-0616.