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On the way to the bus stop last week, my 8-year-old daughter and I passed a telephone pole with posters about the kidnapped Israeli hostages. One particular poster showed an 8-year-old girl. My daughter was extremely upset and had a lot of questions, and I felt completely at a loss for what to say. I know this is going to come up again. How can I be more prepared next time?
Protect her from the Posters
Forgive yourself immediately for not knowing what to say in the moment with your daughter, and take a moment to acknowledge your own grief and pain that made it hard to hold your daughter’s. Right now is a very difficult time to be a Jewish parent. With the caveats that parenting is always difficult, that we are still living with a tremendous amount of privilege as Jews in America, and that “it’s hard to be a Jew,” is a long-standing and well-known Yiddish expression, since we’re the ones living and parenting now, we’re allowed to admit that we’re the ones struggling right now. Because right now is really hard.
Whatever you said to your daughter the first time she saw this poster is in the past. Do not bring it up to her again. If you want to take a different route to the bus stop to avoid that poster, go ahead and walk on another block. However, you’re right to be prepared for when she does bring it up again, since you most likely will not be able to avoid the topic forever. It’s only a matter of time before sees another poster, or sees the news, or hears a classmate or a classmate’s parent talk about the hostages, or reads a book where someone is kidnapped and remembers the poster.
Many parents, myself included, often feel an impulse to help our kids understand concepts and to feed into their curiosity, but now is actually not the time for that. All of the psychologists and parenting experts speaking up about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza agree on one point: answer the questions that children are asking and don’t provide additional details beyond their questions. So, if your daughter says now, after a few days of thinking about it, “What happened to the girl on the poster?” you can honestly answer, “I don’t know,” and wait to see if she follows up. Your daughter may have more “why”-oriented questions, but even then, it’s always ok to say, “I don’t know.”
There are many, many resources out there to provide some context and framework for addressing kids’ questions, fears, and uncertainties, whether specific to the current situation or more broadly. I suggest asking your daughter’s school guidance counselor, Hebrew school director, local rabbi or anyone else tied into Jewish resources, as this is on the minds of everyone currently working with Jewish children. Many national organizations are creating and sharing resources about how to talk to kids about Israel and Gaza, and the people listed above should be able to share some trusted resources. Even some simple Googling on your own could prove fruitful. There are also a number of podcasts for both kids and adults on topics like, “how to talk about difficult subjects,” and even if they’re not Jewish or Israel-specific, they can give you some frameworks and also help you forgive yourself for not knowing what to say.
I hesitate to recommend anything specific here without knowing more about your circumstances, but if anyone wants to reach out to me individually through the webform at the top of this page, I’m happy to offer some suggestions. And more than anything, I want to reiterate what I started with, which is that whatever you said or didn’t say is ok and understandable. While your daughter is still young, she’s not too young to understand that you don’t have all the answers.
Finally, I’ll close by saying that if your daughter seems fixated on the idea of hostages or kidnapping, or if either you or your daughter – or anyone reading this! – is struggling in any way because of current events, seek the help of a therapist. This is a terrible, difficult time that all of us are handling in different ways, and an outside person can provide important assistance in helping to process those feelings.