Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH, FAAP

Dorothy and her compatriots in the “The Wizard of Oz” were on to something all those decades ago when they chanted, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” on their odyssey to hobnob with the wizard. Our children were anxious enough to begin with. A study done by the National Institute of Mental Health has found that 25.1% of 13-18 year-olds suffered from an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Yet the uptick in anxiety in recent hours and days is unparalleled since Hamas launched its unadulterated pogrom, its organized and systematic murder of Jews, this past weekend.

Fear is built into the cycle of life. Normal development includes the stranger anxiety phase which usually sets in at about 7 months of life when your baby recognizes familiar faces like Mom and Dad, and then avoids the unfamiliar. As healthy attachment to parents grows, separation anxiety, as manifested through crying and sadness emerges, and then improves over the next several years. Generally, most children are past this stage by the end of kindergarten.

This is a period of rapid growth as the children’s world expands, bringing with it new and unfamiliar situations and real and imagined dangers from dogs and spiders to monsters and “boogey men.” Between ages 3-6, children are trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not; until this is resolved, they may have difficulties with costumed characters (remember Purim), shadows, the dark, the basement, closets and under the bed. As a child learns how to manage these fears, they can put them aside so they are able to sleep alone.

As long as these fears are real fears and not overly exaggerated, they form a natural, even healthful part of a child’s emotional growth.

This is normal. And now normal is over.

The world ceased being normal this past weekend. We raise our children with Mommy and Tatty and Bubby and Grandpa and Aunt and Uncle and Cousins in our lives. The unthinkable happened and catastrophe reigns. Tragically, Klal Yisrael will not be the same.

We as parents are challenged because we know that the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. Help them learn to tolerate their anxiety and function as well as they can, even when they’re anxious. And as a byproduct of that, the anxiety will decrease or fall away over time. But again, we are in a new world

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety. However, there are research-based techniques that can help us to manage our anxiety and to help our children manage it.

Stop Reassuring Your Child

Your child worries and you respond, “There’s nothing to worry about.” Yet your reassurance fall on deaf ears and the worrying escalates. Your child is not seeking to defy you. He just cannot help himself. Why? During periods of anxiety, the chemicals coursing through the brain and body for survival reasons is unbridled. The prefrontal cortex — the “logical” part of the brain — gets put on hold while the automated emotional brain takes over. Simply put, it’s hard for your child to think clearly, use logic or even remember how to complete basic tasks.

Teaching your children that worry has a purpose.

Worry rings an alarm in our system and helps us survive danger. Teach your children that worry is normal and can help protect us; everyone experiences it at some point. The worry now is justified. We can daven. We can involve ourselves in community projects to help our Israeli brethren. We learn to think beyond ourselves.

Don’t avoid the “topic” just because it makes a child anxious.

Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of is a short-term fix at best; it reinforces the anxiety in the long run and, most likely, the cycle will repeat itself. We want to help our children so that mental health issues do not become become a way of life. Anxiety has been triggered in our kids. Acknowledge it. Help them to put it into words. Discuss Jewish history with them and that Baruch HaShem, Titus and his so-called society are long-gone yet we are here, millennia later.

Express positive but realistic expectations

You can’t promise a child that her fears are unrealistic.

What you can do is express confidence that she’s going to be okay, she will be able to manage it, and that, as she faces her fears, the anxiety level will drop over time. This gives her confidence that your expectations are realistic, and that you’re not going to ask her to do something she can’t handle.

Respect feelings but don’t empower them

Validation and agreement not necessarily the same. If a child is terrified about going to the doctor because he’s due for a shot, you neither want to belittle his fears nor amplify them. Listen and be empathetic, help him understand what he’s anxious about, and encourage him to feel that he can face his fears. The message you want to send: “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this.”

Don’t ask leading questions

Yes, encourage your child to talk about her feelings, but don’t ask leading questions— “Are you anxious about our friends in Modiin?” It’s better to ask open-ended questions such as “How are you feeling about your cousin in Beitar?”

Never reinforce the child’s fears. Acknowledge them.

Try not to say in words, tone of voice or body language: “You know – This might be something that you should be afraid of Unintentionally, you might be telling her, “Be worried.” State your concern about Acheinu Bnai Yisrael HaNitunim B’Sura.

Think things through with the child

Try talking through with your child, “What would happen if your fear came true? How would you handle it?” For example, If I’m late picking you up at after karate, what would you (the child) do?” The child might answer, “I’ll tell the teacher my Mom is not here.” The parent: “How would you ask the instructor for help?” The child: “He’ll offer to call her or he’ll wait with me.”

Reduce and monitor time and content seen on social media

This is a big one. Kudos to the social influencers who are out there combatting the negative media. Many have been “rewarded” by becoming targets of our enemies. HaShem should continue to strengthen them.

But we need to be beyond highly vigilant about what our children see. The graphic images become emblazoned in our brains. It fuels anxiety. In a twisted way, when we see something, we begin to think it’s “normal.” No, this is not normal. Rather than doing damage control, try to avoid it in the first place.


Our children need sleep. We need sleep. Sleep helps us to navigate better and ore successfully.

Model healthy ways of handling anxiety

There are multiple ways you can help kids handle anxiety by letting them see how you cope with anxiety yourself. Kids are perceptive, and they’re watching and absorbing how you handle anxiety. Don’t have stress and anxiety, but let kids hear and see you managing it calmly, tolerating it, feeling good about getting through it.

What do airplane pilots do in an emergency? They don’t wing it (pun intended). They have a checklist to review and set things on a straight(er) course. Instead of rationalizing away worry, help your child master the “FEEL” method:

  • Freeze — Pause and take some deep breaths with your child. This can help reverse the nervous system response.
  •  Empathize — Anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it. • Evaluate — Only after your child is calm, figure out possible solutions. 
  • Let Go – Let go of your guilt. Giving your child the tools to manage their worry is one of the best things a parent can do for a child.

Thank HaShem that we have Community

The charter flights. Supplies purchased. Money raised. Volunteers. Thank HaShem that we are on the giving end of this unending Chessed.

Don’t be shy about saying you need help

We all need help right now. We need each other. It is so okay to recognize and say that you need help.

Remember – Each person is born hardwired. It’s our job as parents to help our children learn to navigate life. This most tragic Parsha is too part of life.

Be available to our children and others so they can talk and emote and process and learn and grow. One’s home should be their children’s safe cocoon. As Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

As always – and now, more than ever – Daven.



0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *