The stunned sadness that is circulating throughout the Jewish world right now has left us with an aching wound. The images, the statistics, and the timing of the attacks on our loved ones, our brothers and our sisters in the Holy Land, are painful to envision and are very frightening. As the rest of the world looks on from a safe distance and forms its opinions, the Jewish people are, collectively, right there in Eretz Yisroel in our hearts, our minds, and in our souls. A discerning adult will pause, look inward, connect with their thoughts, their emotions, their visceral reactions, and their spiritual strife.
We adults must also formulate a discerning and sensitive response to our young ones, our children, and our students.
Please consider and utilize the following tools and pointers in addressing children, because it is most important to speak with them, to model for them your best wholesome responses, and to guide them through their own reactions.
1. Be self-aware. It is normal to react to tragedy and it is not particularly normal to have no reaction. Notice your own thoughts, feelings, and internal activity. It is common to feel scared, sad, confused, stuck, angered, worried. There are very few reactions that are “abnormal” during abnormal times like this. Share your reactions with your spouse, a close friend, or a trusted peer. Talking things through helps ground and center us so that we can then attend responsibly to children.
2. Speak with your children, but listen more than you talk. Their reactions are real and are likely age-appropriate, so do not try to talk them out of what they express, nor give them glib assurance that there is nothing to worry about. Validate, assuring them that their fear, sadness, or worry is directly related to the scary and horrible news that they are hearing. Normalize their reactions for them.
3. Soothe your child. Console them gently that you are their supportive, caring adult and will guide them through this. Do not unload onto your child your own fears and worries. Focus on them and their reactions. Avoid making promises that you cannot guarantee. Agree to keep them informed as you learn more, and prompt them to share with you whatever they hear. The classroom and playground are often arenas for distortions and inaccuracies so remain their primary source of accurate updates.
4. Research has demonstrated that flooding the mind with images and visual media portraying tragic scenes is very unhelpful, and even disruptive to mood, attention span, and even interpersonal sensitivity. Discourage a child from gluing themselves to media which will flood them with images that may be difficult to forget or erase.
5. For the Jewish people, our role on the remote “battlefields” is our prayer. Teach your child this, model this, speak with them about how we pray and what we focus on as we turn to HaShem to save, to protect, to heal. Prayer is an essential tool for grounding the soul as well as the mind and emotions.
6. Love and appreciate your children and your family, especially at a time of tragedy. When the world does not feel safe and secure, your home – and your classroom too – can provide structure, encouragement, and increased feelings of well-being. Make use of your finest skills as a caring, compassionate adult.
May our efforts to be supportive of one another at this time augment our fervent prayers that Benei Yisroel will soon be safe.
Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox is the director of Chai Lifeline’s Crisis Services team. During this difficult time, we encourage anyone in need to contact Chai Lifeline Crisis Services at 855-3-CRISIS or email email@example.com.
WATCH: Words of Chizuk from Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
In the face of such heart-wrenching tragedy in Israel, many of us may feel helpless and hopeless. During this challenging time, it is vital for us, as a people, to come together and find strength and chizuk from one another.
Chai Lifeline is honored to present a special message from Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, the renowned Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue. We hope Rabbi Goldberg’s words offer comfort, healing, and perspective in these tumultuous times.