How to Talk to Your Children About the Conflict in Israel and Gaza

By now, many children have heard about the violent Israel-Gaza conflict that has left thousands of people dead and hundreds hostage, whether from broadcast news, social media, or overhearing adult conversations, or even from classmates in school.

After seeing images and sounds of violence, kidnapping, and real-time destruction, many kids and teenagers may feel scared, concerned, and anxious. They may wonder why other children are among those affected and whether they are safe. And while adults may want to avoid talking about the war with their kids, experts say it’s better to discuss it together to help process their emotions.

Hilit Kletter, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist at Stanford Medicine and director of the Stress and Resilience Clinic, shares how to start the conversation and help children and teens process the tragedy that is happening in the Middle East.

Q: We have discussed ways to approach topics such as school shootings, bullying, attacks, racial discrimination. Is this crisis any different?

This topic is similar, and educating youth about it is one of the ways we can go about effecting change for the future. Parents should take stock because kids are likely to hear about it through some means, whether it’s their friends, or at school, the news, social media, or the internet, especially with older kids that have access to the latter. As a parent, sometimes you just can’t preempt kids hearing about events like this from other sources.   

Q: What is most important for parents to talk about with their children when they see these kinds of violent scenes on the news? Should they stop watching?

Start by asking them what they’ve heard or what they know. This will allow you to correct any misperceptions. Allow them to ask questions and express their feelings. Be truthful, but don’t provide more information than they request. Focus on sharing the things that are being done to help the people and the possibility that there will be a resolution to the problem.

Also, the amount of information that you provide will differ by the age of the child. Younger children will need reassurance about their safety and protection from things that they may be too young to comprehend. With older children, you can assist them in thinking about realistic ways they can help, such as sending supplies to the affected families or raising money to donate to relief efforts. If you suspect that your child may be affected but is not talking about it, gently ask if something is worrying them, or give them the opportunity to express it in other ways, such as drawing. 

Q: How does social media play a role in a child’s understanding of what occurred, and how much is too much?

Kids don’t access the news the same way that adults do. It’s far more common for them to get their news by watching a video on some social media outlet. However, they may not be able to make sense of the graphic images that they see or know how to spot misinformation. Therefore, it’s important for parents to know what social media platforms their children are accessing and what information they’re getting.

One thing that can be helpful is to scroll the social media feeds together with your teen. Engage in conversations about what they’ve seen or heard and how it makes them feel or any concerns that they might have. Teach them about misinformation and how to spot fake news.

Finally, as a parent you are the expert on your child, and you need to decide how much exposure to social media you are comfortable with them having, based on your family values. Also, be aware of what might be emotionally triggering for your child.

In general, it is good practice for both children and adults to limit exposure to one or two trusted sources and to take breaks from social media exposure—for example, by limiting checking to one to two times a day.

Q: What signs of trauma or concern should parents look for in their kids who may not be coping well with what they see and hear?

Some of the signs of trauma might include fear of separation or clinginess, increased crying or acting-out behaviors, changes in appetite or regressing on toilet training, difficulty with sleep or nightmares, difficulty with attention or concentration, headaches, stomachaches, other aches or pains, withdrawal or isolation, increased worry or irrational fears, not wanting to go to school or do things that they normally enjoy.

Q: What can adults do to help ease a child’s anxiety?

Limit their media exposure and be mindful of your news consumption in front of them. Reassure them of their safety and of the adults around them who are working to keep them safe. For younger children, you may have to explain that the war is far away, as they might think it’s closer than it is.

Emphasize what we can control and the work that others are doing to help people affected by the conflict. You can also teach your kids coping methods such as deep breathing, singing, dancing, art, or movement. Seek professional help if your child’s anxiety persists and is causing significant distress.

Q: For families who know someone affected by this violent war, what kind of trauma would you expect, and what does recovery look like?

The impact will be different for different individuals. Some might be experiencing anxiety, depression, or symptoms of posttraumatic stress from the news that they’re seeing and hearing. Some are still worrying about missing family members or friends. Others have already started grieving for loved ones who were killed. And yet for others, this present conflict might be a reminder for prior experiences of war and terror. Recovery will depend on the level of the impact for each person, including their proximity to the people affected, the severity of what they experienced, and whether they’ve had prior experiences of trauma.

For more information on how to communicate with kids during times of crisis, visit the Stanford Parenting Center resource page or contact your child’s primary care physician.


One Response to “How to Talk to Your Children About the Conflict in Israel and Gaza”

  1. Carlee

    I love this and totally agree! And am praying that the parents of America are cautious of engaging with their children with what’s happening in Gaza right now.


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