Shivat Zion

How to Help our Children Deal with an Emergency Situation

The ongoing emergency situation affects our children and may overwhelm them with feelings of stress and worry. As parents, we can help our children cope through conversation and explaining the events in a manner that is adapted to their age. This will allow them to express themselves and regain a sense of security and protection as much as possible.

As parents, we also experience challenges, but we need to remember that the children learn from us. Therefore, to increase their sense of control and help them deal with the situation, it is important that we try to regulate our emotions, radiate calm in front of them, encourage them to express themselves, and be aware of any difficulties that may arise.

As parents, we must make sure our children know what to do when there is a siren, allow them to ask difficult questions, express their fears, and be comforted by you – their parents – and receive knowledge and tools on how to cope with the situation.

Provide Information About the Situation and Explain How to Act

It is important that an initial update regarding the situation come from the parents, not through the media or the educational institution. This is how we can explain the reality to them, and most importantly – reassure them and tell them that we will get through this challenging period safely together and safely. Don’t assume they know; these concepts need to be verbalized.

Explain key concepts in a sensitive, appropriate, and matter-of-fact manner and give the children tools on how to act. For example, explain to them what a protected space is, where your protected space is, and how much time you have to reach it. Explain that the function of the sirens is to protect us, and how to act when it sounds when they children are outside the house (for example on the way to school). Consider together if it is necessary to change the walking route to school.

Allow Children to Ask Questions and Express Feelings

The conversation with the children will provoke questions, thoughts, concerns and mixed emotions. Express understanding of their concerns and fears, and give them space to express themselves. Help them understand that they are not alone, give them the feeling that it is okay to be afraid, and explain that the fear they feel has a role – it too, like the siren, is meant to protect us because without fear, we will not act and defend ourselves.

At the same time, if fear takes hold of us, we must calm it down. One of the ways to deal with fear is to express it and share it with others, as well as to channel it into action, for example through painting, sculpture, or any other creation that ventilates the emotion.

Create a Security Anchor for the Children

Convey messages to the children that help build resilience, for example, by emphasizing the defense and security capabilities of the IDF and the security forces in protecting us. In addition, explain to them that the State of Israel has a strong civil and military defense system, and tell them about the Home Front Command and how following guidelines helps us, the citizens, to protect ourselves and our lives.

Assign Roles to the Children

Giving children roles provides them with a sense of control and security, helps them not to sink into fear, and is essential for building their resilience. That is why it is important to give a role to each of the children at home, according to their ability and level of development. This helps emphasize their ability to deal with the events.

Think together what their role can be in the event of a siren. Encourage them to be active and take initiative. For example, count everyone entering the protected space when there is a siren, announce when 10 minutes have passed since the siren, help siblings while in the protected space, or call grandparents to let them know that everyone is okay. Another example – during each stay in the protected space, one of the children can be responsible for playing their favorite or relaxing music.

Maintain a Routine as much as Possible

Emergency is a time of uncertainty, characterized by a sense of no control. A fixed daily schedule reduces the feeling of lack of cohesion, among both adults and children. Therefore, try to establish a family routine with the children (even if there are sirens during the day). For example, try to wake up at a fixed time, have family meals on time, and allocate time to tidy the house. Also include times for fun activities and games and a fixed bedtime.

Having said that, this is not the time to demand discipline from children and it is important to understand unusual behaviors as well. For example, allow them to sleep with you, the parents, if they wish, to sleep wearing special clothes, to sleep with a doll, a pacifier, etc.

Use this time as an opportunity to develop closer ties between family members and strengthen your family unit.

Reduce Children's Media Exposure as much as Possible

Encourage children to reduce media and internet exposure. Try to avoid viewing photos and videos connected directly to the security situation. It is important to do this in collaboration with the children: explaining the benefits of reducing news viewing and reducing exposure to images broadcast in the media. Also, help them distinguish between facts and opinions and the danger of spreading rumors, and reiterate the importance of listening to authorized sources only.

Positive Actions

Sports activities – even when carried out in a limited space – help in coping. Sit-ups, jumping in place, even Yoga or Pilates with the children can help raise spirits. In addition, relaxation activities and the use of guided imagery techniques are very helpful in dealing with stressful situations. For example, ask your children to close their eyes and imagine a place that evokes relaxing and good memories in them, or ask them to tell you about a place they would like to be and describe who they are with and what they are doing there.

Adapted from Pikud HaOref, the Home Front Command website.