Talking to Your Children About the Israel-Gaza Conflict: Advice from a Pediatrician

Tips for Supporting Children during the Israel-Gaza War

The ongoing conflict in Israel-Gaza can be distressing for children and teens, leaving them with feelings of confusion, fear, and uncertainty about the future. As parents and caregivers, it’s essential to support them in a constructive and helpful way. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate these challenging conversations with children:

1. Start by asking children what they already know, as they may have heard about the war from various sources like TV, social media, school, or friends. Listen for misunderstandings or frightening rumors, and acknowledge their confusion. Explain that adults also do not have all the answers, and news reports can be conflicting.

2. Children often share similar concerns to adults, such as worries about safety, the well-being of people involved, and broader regional and global impacts. However, they may have unique fears as well. Ask them directly about their worries, as they may require specific reassurance tailored to their concerns.

3. Provide honest explanations, correct misunderstandings, and avoid ignoring or minimizing their fears. Help children identify ways to cope with anxiety, sadness, and fears. Keep in mind that children of different ages will have varied understanding and reactions, so adapt your explanations accordingly.

4. Point out that people worldwide are working to help families directly impacted by the war and to keep everyone safe. Reassure children about their safety and well-being, especially after exposure to graphic media coverage.

5. Limit exposure to graphic images and media coverage, as too much exposure can be overwhelming and triggering for children, particularly those who have experienced trauma or challenging situations before. Take a break from media and come together as a family and community for support.

6. Expect that children’s reactions may be self-centered initially, and that’s normal during a crisis. Once they feel safe and reassured, they will be more open to thinking about others and helping those affected.

7. Encourage children to find positive ways to help and offer support to other community members. This could include working with charitable organizations as a family or school project.

8. Model positive ways to cope with distressing feelings, and be open about your own feelings with children. Create a safe space for children to share their emotions without fear of judgment.

9. If children continue to be upset for an extended period or are struggling to cope, consider seeking advice from pediatricians, teachers, school counselors, mental Health professionals, or members of the clergy. Counseling and support can be beneficial even before children display signs of significant distress.

By following these tips, you can help children navigate their emotions and fears related to the Israel-Gaza war, offering them comfort, reassurance, and support during this challenging time. For more information, visit HealthyChildren.org.

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David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, is an executive committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children and Disasters. He also serves as director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

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