Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

 Although we adults are struggling with our own thoughts and feelings about this horrific tragedy, it does not absolve us from the responsibility of talking to children about what they are seeing and hearing, even when they did not directly witness the event.

Here are some guidelines that parents can use for children who’ve been indirectly affected by this calamity:

  • Honesty is important but that doesn’t mean children need to know the details. The child’s “developmental lens” should determine what he needs to know and how we speak with him.  Answering a child’s questions depends on what he can understand without further alarming him.
  • First, find out what your child already knows. Gently ask questions and listen to their responses.  This is an opportune time to correct misinformation.  Acknowledge your child’s feelings; this should be the focal point rather than the event itself.
  • Searching for the right words to use? Consider the resource Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, also known as AFNATAL.

Let’s start with young children.

Infants and Toddlers are comforted when caregivers are warm and responsive to their needs.  Highly predictable routines are crucial.

Young Children, as we know, are sensitive to adults’ emotions, make every effort to speak in a calm voice.  Language should be simple.  Answer questions honestly but with minimal detail so their imaginations do not run wild.   This age group does best when reassured they are safe.  Perhaps some extra attention from Mommy, Daddy or a loving adult might be needed.

School Age Children may understand more and, as a result, may need to speak more.  That’s okay.  Please still exercise caution in sharing details.  Listen carefully to what they say and ask and respond accordingly.

Adolescents need adults to listen to their thoughts and feelings without the adults editing them.  Some teenagers are already grappling with life and death issues or whether or not this is a world of justice.  They want honesty, not doubletalk.  However, teenagers do it on their timetable, meaning, it’s when they’re ready to talk.

Our world is plagued by “TMI” – too much information.  It’s hard to regulate what our children are exposed to, especially when they have friends and walk the streets.  This is not an excuse for us to cop out.  Rather, use this as an opportunity to invite your children to ask questions and to bring you information to discuss.  Of course, never give up setting boundaries and monitoring your children on any electronic device.  Kids know far more than we realize (or want to admit).

Exercise.  Get and keep you and your children moving.  I’m not joking.  It keeps everyone busy and less “self” focused.  It’s bonding time.  And you already know the benefits to setting loose those endorphins.

Take care of yourselves, Mommy and Daddy.  Our world is a stressful one.  Make sure you eat well and rest.  Socializing with peers is important.

If you or any family member or loved one are struggling, don’t be a martyr.  Seek professional help.  There are mental health professionals, Rabbonim, Askanim and others who can help you – or at least direct you to find the help you need.

Healthy parents mean healthy children.

Together, let’s move forward with our children’s mental and emotional health intact.

As always, daven.


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