Israel-Hamas War: How to talk to your children about what is going on in Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 12:  Candles lit by people in memory of the civilians and soldiers killed, and for the hostages that were taken to the Gaza Strip, in Dizingof Square on October 12, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israel has sealed off Gaza and conducted airstrikes on Palestinian territory after an attack by Hamas killed hundreds and took more than 100 hostages. On October 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel from Gaza by land, sea, and air, killing over 1300 people and wounding more than 2000. Israeli soldiers and civilians have also been taken hostage by Hamas and moved into Gaza. The attack prompted a declaration of war by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Some parents have been trying to figure out how to talk to their children about the Israel-Hamas war. Many are trying to make sense of how to explain what they are hearing or seeing.

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Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, told “Good Morning America” that having a conversation is up to each parent and caregiver. They can decide how much or how little they want their child exposed to.

“Parents and caregivers are the most trusted figures from whom [children] can get information,” Anderson said, according to the news outlet. “So, what we say to caregivers is, ‘First and foremost, think about the level of control you want to exercise.’”

A parent, Mandy Friedlander, told WPTV that she doesn’t want to scare her children.

“It’s hard to kind of give them everything and give them just as much as they need,” Friedlander said. She added that she and her husband are trying to be very open with their children.

“We’ll give them the facts,” she said, according to WPTV. “(We’re) just really staying away from the gruesome, gory details that I don’t think their little minds are capable of handling. But I want them to know exactly what happened, exactly who is doing it, and exactly why.”

Check with yourself

Dr. Aliza Pressman, co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center, told Parent Magazine said these conversations start off with checking on yourself.

“You have to figure out how you feel—not politically but how you physically feel in your body,” Pressman said. “If you have been watching the news, seeing scary images, and feeling very anxious, you need to regulate yourself because, in conversations with...any kids, they need to borrow your nervous system.”

Children under the age of 10

A senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, Jamie Howard, told “CBS Mornings” on Thursday that children under the age of 10 “should be” protected.

“This is too much for their development to make sense of,” Howard said, according to CBS News.

With children over the age of 10, Howard suggests using open-ended questions, like “What have you been hearing about?” Starting off small without giving too much information can be key.

“You can say, ‘Well, there has been a conflict overseas and there’s another war going on. You’re safe, and if you hear anything about it, please come talk to me. You can always come talk to me if you feel confused or have questions about it,’” Howard said, according to CBS News.

Dr. Samantha Saltz, a psychiatrist in Boca Raton, Florida, told WPTV that it is very important when it comes to what information your child is exposed to based on their age.

“Looking at what’s going on overseas is scary for everybody, right? And we just want everybody to take a step back and be real with your children, too,” Saltz said.

“It’s OK to say to a child, ‘Mommy is a little bit afraid,’ or, ‘Daddy is a little bit afraid.’ And don’t be afraid if you don’t have an answer. It’s OK to say, ‘Let me think about that for a little bit,’ and take a step back and say, ‘Mommy needs a little time,’ or ‘Daddy needs a little time’ to answer that question.”

Children over the age of 10

Anderson said that for children over the age of 10, especially teenagers, it is important to have a conversation, according to “Good Morning America.”

“It’s saying to teenagers, ‘Look, we know that this can be really stressful imagery for you to see. I know I can’t fully control what you might find online. If I asked you to sign off on social media, you might still see something on [TV], or on an internet website that you go to, or on YouTube, so I want you to think about the fact that it’s this balance of maybe you want to be informed about the events of the world, and at the same time to really think about your own psychological health in how much of this you’re exposing yourself to or reading about,’” Anderson said, according to the news outlet.

Tips to guide your questions

JCC Chicago suggested a few tips, including following your child’s lead. They recommend that you avoid euphemisms, analogies and metaphors, and use words like “war” or “death.” It is also always good to evaluate what your child knows by asking.

“You can also acknowledge the feeling behind the question. ‘Wow. You’ve been thinking a lot about that. How do you feel asking that question?’ Think together with the child and focus on the feeling behind it,” JCC Chicago said. The group added that it is OK to not answer all the questions your child may have.

More tips can be found on JCC Chicago’s website.

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