Sirens are sounding across Israel, and the existing security situation presents us with a challenge of how much to expose our young children to the current reality. How should we talk to them and what should we say? How should we relate to their questions? How do we respond to the distress and fear that our children are expressing? Following requests that we received from a number of parents in our pre-school system and our observations that children are being exposed to too much information about “the situation”, we decided to share our recommendations for communicating with your children and supporting them during this stressful time. The recommendations are written as guidelines, and our aim is to help you and your children cope with the situation.
1. Preschool-aged children are influenced more than anything by the reactions of their parents. They see your anxiety levels and distress and are affected by the nature of your response. Try to avoid extreme reactions or conversations with other adults about the situation when your child is in the vicinity. It’s challenging to do this when we ourselves stressed, and it is important that you find a way to work through the tension and stress you’re experiencing with other adults, in order to be fully available to accommodate your children’s needs.
2. It is important to give your children the feeling that they are safe and protected. In other words, “We are protecting you and everything is fine.” Hugs and physical contact are very helpful, and humor and play can offer a great diversion during an alarm.
3. It is recommended to prevent your child from being directly exposed to information related to the situation via television, radio or other virtual sources. These sources are intended for adults only, and transmit photographs and reports that are unsuitable for children. If you feel the need to catch up on current events, try not to do so near your child. Either take a quick peek on your computer or smartphone, or speak on the phone with someone who can update you without your children hearing it.
4. In the event of a rocket alert (or any other similarly stressful event), once it’s over, ensure that your children are kept busy. Play with them, tell them a story, bring them pages for drawing, take them for a walk or to the playground and so on.
5. During an alarm or other unplanned action, tell your children in simple words what to do, without providing too much explanation. For example: “Here’s the signal that tells us to enter the room. I’ll tell you a story or we’ll play a game and then we can go out.”
6. The questions that children ask and the answers you offer in response should depend on the level of exposure that your children receive. They are not looking for complex or “realistic” answers, but rather responses that allow them to better understand what they are actually experiencing or what they are required to do. For example: “Why are there alarms?” – “The sirens are a signal from the people who protect us, telling us to enter the safe room” (if you can come up with an alternative name for this protected space, so much the better!) “When will we leave the room?” – “We’ll tell another story and then go out into the yard.” “What’s that noise?” – “This is a very loud noise that we hear after the alarm. Now we can continue to…”
7. If your children have already been exposed to information, try to help them process the material at an age-appropriate level. For example, you can say that what is happening is similar to what happened to him recently in pre-school when he was angry with a friend who didn’t include him, but that in this case, the argument is between countries. This turns the experience he gets from the bigger situation into something concrete that he knows how to address.
8. If your children express feelings of fear, you should accept it and let them know that you embrace them and protect them. Emotions are natural and legitimate, and there is no reason to worry about your child’s emotional experience; just try to provide an appropriate response with supportive actions (hugs, relieving stress by taking a walk or going to the playground, etc.).