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Talking to kids about ongoing violence in Gaza and Israel

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“What should I say to my children and how do I say it?” “Are children aware of what’s happening over there?” We know many of you have had similar questions over the last few months as we’ve witnessed, watched, and heard about the horrifying events unfolding in Gaza and Israel. While these events are not U.S.-based, the news deeply affects many of us here, including our children. And it is precisely in these times that we caregivers serve our kids best by engaging rather than avoiding difficult developments in our communities and around the world.

Drawing from the EmbraceRace Color-Brave Caregiver Framework, we offer you the following ideas for navigating conversations with kids in response to the ongoing events in Gaza and Israel. Specifically, we take the four color-brave caregiver Ways of Being and ask of each one, how do we lean into this way of being in this moment, on this issue, with our kids? What does it mean to be a Steadfast Guide, a Compassionate Self-Examiner, a Brave Learner, and an Anti-Racist Advocate with respect to these events?

How to be a Steadfast Guide right now:

  • Follow children’s leads. Ask them what they’ve heard. You might be surprised at what your child or children know already.

  • Help children understand the difference between people and nations. Individual people have lots of different views and values that are not always reflected by the government, leadership, or people with power in their nations. We can be mindful of the language we use when we talk about what’s happening in the Middle East. It’s not accurate or okay to generalize about all Israelis or all Palestinians based on what their leaders say or do in their name. And no one deserves to be hurt because of decisions their leaders are making.

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about and feel all emotions. Ask children how they’re feeling. Model naming your own feelings and describing how they feel in your body. Remember that grief, pain, and anger are all okay and are normal human responses to traumatic events like these. It’s also healthy for your body and mind to take a break from the heaviness, and experience joy and laughter in the midst of grief. It’s healthy for kids to have a sense of normalcy – to keep going to soccer games, birthday parties, and holiday celebrations while holding grief for the Middle East.

  • Reinforce your family’s values. What are your family’s beliefs about what all human beings deserve? Be explicit and concrete, especially with young children. For example: we believe that all people deserve a safe place to live; the ability to make choices about where they live; and access to healthy food, clean water and the medicines they need. Above all, we believe that all people deserve to feel loved and cared for, whoever they are, wherever in the world they live. And just because people are far away doesn’t mean we don’t care about them.

How to be a Compassionate Self-Examiner right now:

  • Take time to reflect. Ask yourself questions like:
    • Do I hold biases toward or make generalizations about Israelis or Palestinians, or toward Jewish or Muslim Americans? If so, where do those come from? Are they fair? What histories and contexts might I need to learn more about? How has my racial and ethnic identity influenced my perspective(s) on these particular people groups?
    • How am I teaching my children to be proud of their own identities while valuing those who are different from them?
    • How am I taking care of myself and managing my own emotions in response to this violence?How am I responding when hearing a challenging or dissenting opinion? How can I position myself to listen and learn instead of being defensive?
  • Write it out. If it helps to journal your thoughts, go ahead and start writing!

  • Phone a friend. Don’t forget to reflect in community – sometimes processing with your therapist, community, friends, partner, and/or family members can be helpful too.

How to be a Brave Learner right now:

  • Seek out more information. It’s ok to have questions and it’s ok not to know the answers. Now is the time to explore and find answers. Learn about the history of Israel and Palestine from multiple sources and perspectives.

  • Reject all-or-nothing, either-or, binary thinking. As humans, we can hold grief for all those who have been affected by violence. We can also imagine solutions that are not one-sided. Ask children what solutions they can think of that could be fair to ALL people living in the region.

  • Use books to help children appreciate the full humanity of people from all backgrounds. A great place to start is with the age-graded book lists on Palestine and Jewish identity and history from Social Justice Books. Speaking to your local librarian and Google searches are also good ways to find perspectives your child may be missing (“windows”) and perspectives that affirm your child’s identity (“mirrors”). As with all books, review them before deciding which to read with children. On this complex issue and on many others, the authors and illustrators will agree on some things and not on others. You can hold the complexity of diverging narratives and examine them with your child.

How to be an Anti-Racist Advocate right now:

  • Reiterate that violence and conflict are not an excuse for prejudice and hatred. Following the violence in Gaza and Israel, we are seeing upticks in both antisemitism and Islamophobia in our own country. None of that is ok. Help children think through what they will do if they experience prejudice based on their own Jewish or Muslim identity or see someone else being targeted this way. The 5Ds of bystander intervention from Right to Be can help here (check out these videos for kids).

  • Look for the peacemakers. Find out who has been working toward peace and to ensure human rights for all Israelis and Palestinians. Sharing stories with children about people and groups who have been working toward peace, justice, and understanding among Israeli and Palestinian people can inspire children to take a similar approach to identity-based conflicts.

  • Take action – even small ones. If you can, consider talking to kids about donating (even small amounts) to humanitarian aid organizations working in the region. (See here for a list of organizations). As always, call or write to your representatives to voice your concerns and to demand fair and just treatment of all people.

Additional Resources

  • Check out this thoughtful piece by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs at Romper, which features several different - at times opposing - perspectives of Jewish and Israeli American and Palestinian American parents on how they are navigating these conversations with their children. For more information related to helping children cope with trauma, violence, and war, find resources from the Greater Good Science Center and Zero to Three.