Jewish adults the world over are stunned, reeling from an irreplaceable loss of a Torah giant, and now confronting tragedy after tragedy when and where we would have least expected it. As we sort through our fears, our thoughts, our rapid attempts to connect dots and make sense, we have our prayers and we have our mentors, friends, and spouses to turn to for support and possibly consolation. But let’s consider our children. We have a role to take in guiding them through the news of the latest hostilities. People dying, our own innocent brethren are being assaulted and taken from us tragically and traumatically. All this while Jews further east in Ukraine are on the run. All at such a precarious time. Let’s take a look at how we address our youth during times of terror and distress.
Remember: as parents, as teachers, our most important tool is listening to them. Be mindful that they know that something is going on, and we are unable to shelter them from the news whether coming in gossip form, rumoring, or overhearing adults talking. Prompt your children to talk to you about what they have heard. Don’t hasten to reframe, correct or alter their reports to you. Listen. Encourage them to talk and to share both thoughts and feelings. Listening comes first. Table the judgment, the critique and just listen with parental concern and caring.
Your next tool is empathy and warmth. Accept their feelings. It is natural to be anxious, worried, frightened, ad, and even angry, as a youngster, when they learn that we, that others, are unsafe and very vulnerable. Support them, validate the feelings which they share, and encourage them to get it out into the open with you, while you remain tender, caring, gentle, and inviting to their disclosures without censoring or critiquing them.
Assure them that they are safe right now. Remind them that you are there for them and want to protect them and that you too are being careful to stay safe, whether you live in the diaspora or in Israel. Talk to them about prayer, turning to Hashem, faith, and trust in Him. At the same time, normalize their feelings because there is no contradiction between faith in God and reactive worry and fear when world events are confusing, overwhelming, and scary. It is normal to be scared when the assumptions one has about the world are suddenly overturned. Calmly and lovingly reassure your children despite the reality of their worries.
Help give them the skill to craft a helpful perspective. For young children, that might mean partnering with them to look at steps they can take to cope or deal with their fears. This might be finding pastimes that are comforting, insulating themselves before bedtime from scary stories, or spending relaxed time with family members. For older children, that might mean assisting them with choosing steps they want to take to feel that they are able to help make the circumstances better. This might be something spiritual in nature, a project to reach out to others in need, or a positive boost in personal and interpersonal conduct. For teens and our young adult children, a perspective change might involve deeper contemplation, further dialogue, or discussions with those whom they trust in order to develop a framework for facing world events. People often cope better when they feel they have taken some action, some step, to address their fears and sadness. Prompt and encourage this. They will need your patience, support, and encouragement as we wait to see what is unfolding in our world.
Educate your children that we are blessed with community and Torah leaders, and we will turn to them for further insight and guidance. When your children see that this is your own belief and value, they will take inspiration from the framework that you model. Take the opportunity to model for your children how to face challenges with wholesome composure.
The Navi (Prophet) has forecast that during eis tzara l’Yakov, a time of trouble for the People of Israel, we will nonetheless be rescued and saved. We yearn for that sublime outcome, as we wait in prayer.