KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — News of war can often cause feelings such as fear, sadness, anger and anxiety. With the Israel-Hamas war making headlines, many parents may be wondering how to address the topic with their children.
Experts suggest that parents should find opportunities to start conversations with their children and ask them open-ended questions about their feelings. By doing so, children can learn to identify their emotions and develop coping mechanisms to deal with them as well as gain content about what is going on.
“It’s important for adults and caregivers to understand that the violence in Israel and in Gaza is alarming for everyone, especially for children who may be struggling and being left with questions about why other children have been affected and whether they are safe,” said Shannon Dow, senior director of McNabb Center, Blount County Services.
Parents should also be mindful of the media exposure their children have and be careful about the conversations happening around them.
“Especially in this day in this age of social media, it can be easy for a teen to see images of this on their social media feed, and so just for adults to be aware of the media exposure that children have as well as might being mindful of the conversations that are happening around the child,” said Dow.
Dow stressed the importance of talking to children about the conflict so that they can understand the situation better and gain context. She suggested asking open-ended questions such as “What do you know about the violence going on in Israel and Gaza?” and avoiding questions that lead to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It is also important to choose the right time and place for these conversations so the child will feel comfortable talking freely.
“You’re giving that child the space to ask these questions based on the information they have and potentially the images they’ve seen. But when we don’t open these conversations and start them, the children are seeing these things and hearing these things and creating narratives that are based on potentially not in fact, or based on information that is incorrect,” said Dow.
She also suggested showing children a map to help them understand where the conflict is taking place and keeping their developmental age in mind while having these conversations.
Finally, Dow highlighted the importance of caregivers regulating their emotions around the conflict before having these conversations with their children. By doing so, parents can maintain a constructive and positive conversation with their children.
“It’s important for caregivers prior to having a conversation to prepare yourself for how you’re being impacted by it as a caregiver and reaching out to someone for yourself to help you regulate and help you prepare for the for this conversation with your child,” said Dow.
For parents wanting to know more, Unicef also has a guide for parents on how to talk about war.