Hamas terrorists roam Israeli cities. Families with children are kidnapped into the Gaza Strip. Air strikes on both sides, houses destroyed, bodies in the streets. The attacks by the radical Islamic Hamas against Israel have created horrific images that are circulating around the world and shocking us. And many are worried about how the war between Israel and Hamas will continue. Is there a risk of war in the entire Middle East?
The violence in the Middle East is currently the dominant topic, in the news, but also at home. Children also realize that something bad has happened. How should you talk to children about war and the Middle East conflict? And what can parents do if their child has seen disturbing images on Instagram or Tiktok?
“First of all, it is important that we take the child seriously,” says psychologist Elisabeth Raffauf in an interview with stern. She has worked with children, young people and parents for several years and also works at WDR children's radio. She is also the author of the book "When is Peace Finally", which is intended to answer children's questions about war, violence and flight.
"The children notice something, they also hear the worries and fears of the adults and are interested in what is happening in the world. They hear words like Hamas, war or bomb." It is then important not to dismiss children in these situations, but rather to talk to them. "Some children just need a little information to feel safe. Children sense that something is going on." If you talk children out of their feelings, it makes them even more insecure, says the psychologist. "You should tell the child: Your feeling is right."
When talking to children, you should avoid giving long lectures, but rather answer questions about war and violence briefly and in simple words. According to Raffauf, it is important to talk about feelings: "If it scares the child, makes him feel insecure... Everyone has a feeling for their child." Then it should be conveyed that it is completely normal to be afraid. "Adults have them too. You shouldn't forget that fear in itself is not a bad thing. It is an alarm system that we sometimes need."
If the child does not come to the parents with questions on their own, they could ask, for example, whether the war was discussed at school or whether pictures appeared on social networks.
“As a parent, you should be open to the questions that come from the child and signal that the child can always approach the parents and that you take the questions and concerns seriously,” advises Raffauf.
How you talk to the child depends on their age and level of development. "Primary school children may want to know what Hamas is or what's happening in Gaza. So very political questions. Or they hear at school when there are conflicts between classmates because of the Middle East conflict. But what's important is no matter how old the child is "To see what it's dealing with."
Of course, you have to explain the situation to smaller children in simpler words. Children under the age of three in particular would have fewer questions and worries anyway because they only spend a limited amount of time with it. “It concerns some children a lot and others less. Children are different,” says the psychologist and author.
The qualified psychologist Raffauf also explains that children also re-enact wars and conflicts, where they can pretend to shoot each other. “As a parent or educator, you shouldn’t translate that one-to-one.” For children, this is also a form of processing. "If, for example, a child says 'You're dead' while playing with other children, then the child may no longer be so helpless in the face of what is happening in Israel. So you shouldn't ban it, but you shouldn't leave it uncommented either and therefore with it talk to the children about it."
However, the Middle East conflict is complicated and difficult to explain, even to adults. “If you don’t know something or can’t explain the Middle East conflict, then you should tell the child,” advises Raffauf. However, you could offer to get information together, read a book or do research on the Internet in order to at least answer the question a little. "You can openly tell the child how complicated the conflict between Israel and Hamas and how mutual the Middle East conflict is. Parents don't have to know and be able to answer everything, but it helps the children if they are open and willing to give answers together find."
Parents could also think together with the child about what they can actually do themselves. For example, alone or with others, suggest to the teacher that the class talk about the war. "Painting pictures and sticking them on the windows, writing a letter, collecting donations or perhaps going to a demonstration can also be small signs if you want to show support." This is how you get out of the feeling of powerlessness.
If the offspring becomes too consumed by the war and the terrible news and images, as a parent you can work with the child to see how they can come up with other ideas, explains Raffauf. "Ask what the child enjoys or think about what has been helpful in the past to get other ideas. Playing around or doing sports, for example."
Nowadays, even young children have smartphones and use social networks. Tiktok and Instagram are popular, but both platforms show videos and images of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas terror. Many of them are disturbing, even for adults. So what can you do if a child sees images like this?
"With social media and the terrible images there, you should tell the child openly: 'If you see something that disturbs you, don't watch it until the end. Show it to your parents and we'll talk about it,'" says Raffauf .
Parents also know it when they can't get particularly gruesome images out of their heads. Parents should therefore show the child what they can do if they have seen such images: "Talk to the parents about it, report the video or photo, perhaps delete it or not look at it at all, put the cell phone away and then take it to the parents go."