This morning my daughter asked me “What if there’s another war?”. An appropriate question for a 7 1/2 year old living in Israel, a country constantly under the threat of war and terror.
For my kids the threat of war is constant, but even if you live abroad, it’s not unlikely that your kids have caught wind of whispers of war and terror.
Now you might be wondering how much these topics affect your kids and to what extent.
Or in other words, how do I talk to my kids about war and terror?
That’s a good question!
Here are 7 tips to help you talk to your kids:
1. Take time to think about what comes up for you when you think about the constant threat of war in Israel, terror, and quite simply, death.
Feeling anxious, worried, and fearful is totally okay. It’s important that we acknowledge those difficult feelings- simply ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. Rather, we’re more likely to infect our children with our fears rather than instilling them with a sense of safety.
2. Don’t wait for your children to ask.
If you don’t broach the topic, your kids will think that you don’t want to talk about it. What you want to do is strike the balance between demonstrating a willingness to talk without demanding discussion. Most kids aren’t readily aware of how they feel, particularly about complicated topics such as war and terror. So pushing them to talk, won’t get you very far. One way to inquire gently is to ask them questions like:
“I’ve been wondering, what do other kids your age think about …”
“What were you doing in gan when the siren went off?”
3. Listen to your kids Whatever your kids’ response, just listen. If your pre-schooler makes some inarticulate attempt to share his or her thoughts, listen. And if your adolescent shares opposing views to your own, just listen. Don’t interrupt or interject You can even try to take a conscious second to pause before responding. But what should you say? What you want to do is communicate to your kids that you’re listening. You can do that by reflecting their opinions and feelings back to them: “Seems like you’re worried that there could be a siren any minute and you wouldn’t know what to do”
3. Listen to your kids
Whatever your kids’ response, just listen.
If your pre-schooler makes some inarticulate attempt to share his or her thoughts, listen. And if your adolescent shares opposing views to your own, just listen.
Don’t interrupt or interject
You can even try to take a conscious second to pause before responding.
But what should you say?
What you want to do is communicate to your kids that you’re listening.
You can do that by reflecting their opinions and feelings back to them:
“Seems like you’re worried that there could be a siren any minute and you wouldn’t know what to do”
4. Questions with no answers
What do you do if you’re child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to?
Questions like will there be another war? Will I be victim of terror?
Firstly, acknowledge that they are asking a really good question. Be honest, and tell them that you don’t know the answer. Notice what it’s like to not know the answer yourself. Sit with that feeling.
Also take note of how your child is experiencing uncertainty. Your child may be satisfied with not knowing. Or he or she may have more questions.
You can model to your child how you cope with uncertainty:
“It’s hard not to know what will happen but even though I don’t know what will happen in the future, I know that we’re safe now and that Israel and our army is very strong and will protect us and I will protect you”
Also, since we can’t make any promises to our kids about the future, you can share hope:
“We hope there won’t be another war” or “We hope the soldiers will be okay, most soldiers return home safely”.
If it suits your family’s beliefs, you can include statements of faith.
5. Accept your kids feelings
When our kids express strong feelings, particularly fear, we try to reassure them by telling that not to worry, and/or there’s nothing to be scared of.
This can be confusing for kids, even distressing, particularly those who live in Israel and have experienced war, because if there is nothing to worry about why are grownups so upset when it comes to war and terror?
Instead, if your kids tell you they are scared, you can acknowledge their fear “Yes, war is scary” and then reassure that you love them and they will be cared for.
6. Spend time creating peace in your family
Children who feel heard, feel safe.
Make time to practice talking about everyday feelings. For the busy parents out there, remember that this quality time is not about quantity. It doesn’t take much time but has a huge impact on your kids sense of safety in the world.
Also, be sure to develop a family structure for resolving conflict peacefully and to model peaceful communication with your children.
7. Get involved
Studies show that when we feel we are helping, we improve our coping and reduce stress.
Have your kids prepare a package or painting for our soldiers. This will help engender a sense of control and connection.
Just to conclude it’s important to remember two things:
These conversations are not a one-time thing, be open to random signs that your kid wants to talk about it and don’t dismiss it because it seems out of place.
Second, if your child experienced prior loss or anxiety they may be prone to feel more fearful now when there is more talk of memories of war.
They may demonstrate unusual emotional sensitivities, bursts of anger, trouble sleeping, or sudden increased fears about separation. Keep this in mind and accept any change of behaviour. Don’t get scared about it.
It may be time to calmly revisit past events allowing your child to retell their experience. It’s important to highlight that even though we felt very scared it turned out okay.
If these behaviours don’t begin to reside, it is then worth while to consider seeking professional support.
If you have any questions or concerns, let me know. I’m here to help.