Judah Koller
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Parenting in the safe room

Four super smart tips for getting kids through the sirens with as little trauma as possible

Last night we had our fourth siren, which went off as I was walking our dog three blocks away.

Sprinting back to our home I passed several adults jumping out of their cars to get indoors, one car clearly speeding to get to its destination in time, and a mother frantically looking for her son who had been playing outside. Needless to say, the experience left me with no shortage of thoughts. Among these was the notion that it is so easy for this to become a crazy-making experience for kids.

Child development 101 has always told us that the most important thing we can provide children with is physical safety. That sense of safety is now being threatened, for all of us. The question is what can we do to minimize the perception of this threat. This is particularly worthy of our attention given that children are extremely attuned to their parents’ anxiety, and nothing says anxiety like “You have 90 (or 30 or 15) seconds to get your family into a sealed room before a rocket may or may not descend upon your home”.

So, to that effect, here are some broad thoughts to guide us as we balance protecting our children with attempting to avoid any more trauma than is already built in to this experience. One asterisk here is that everything I’m writing is subjective, both in terms of age and personality of the child, and regarding the individual nature of the parent and parent-child relationship. That said, here are some general guidelines:

Your child is safe, and they need to know that

It’s ok to reassure your sons and daughters that nothing is going to happen to them and that the safe room is something we do “just in case.” The chance of a rocket falling on any individual is so infinitesimal that I feel ethically comfortable telling my children that it will not happen. So don’t worry about false promises and tell your kids that they’ll be ok.

Along the same lines, keep your own feelings in check

Sure, we may want to curse our heads off and pee in our pants every time the siren goes off, but this anxiety is something we, as adults, need to process internally when we’re taking care of our children. There’s no shame in telling our children that we are also a bit scared, but they should feel safe and that they’re in good hands.  A child who doesn’t believe that their parent can protect them lives in a truly scary world. After you get out of the safe room you can process your feelings with partners/friends and post to whatever social network tickles your fancy. In the safe room, be there for your kids.

Children should only know what they need to know

This is difficult because our desire to limit the information we give our kids is balanced by our not wanting to leave too much to the imagination. You have to know your child and what information they can handle as opposed to what will keep them up at nights. Please don’t leave the news on 24/7.

Give your kids a chance to express themselves

Young children don’t have the ability to debrief about intense experiences the way adults do. No Facebook, Twitter or even those archaic phone calls. While adults express emotions through words, children do so through play or other non-verbal avenues. We want to make sure children have these opportunities to express themselves in a safe way. For younger kids this might be through art projects or pretend play. For older kids, perhaps a journal in which they can write down one or two things that happened that day. The content of this type of journal might also serve as a starting point for a conversation you want to have with your child but don’t know how to initiate (e.g. “It sounds like you were pretty scared about what happened yesterday. What did it feel like?” or “I just want you to know that I was scared too but we have to remember that, as long as we’re careful, we’re totally safe here and nothing will happen to us”).

While there’s certainly more to think about, I think these are some decent starting points. Here’s hoping that by the time you read this the content is no longer relevant.

About the Author
Judah is Assistant Professor of Clinical Child Psychology and Special Education at the Seymour Fox School of Education at the Hebrew University. He directs the Autism Child and Family Lab and is the Director of the Jerusalem Region of the Azrieli National Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopment Research.
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