Monday, June 30, 2014

How to Talk to Your Kids About Violent Death & Terrorism

The murders of three innocent teenage boys, captured at a bus stop in Israel, have brought the country to a standstill. Jewish people around the world are united in grief. 

 We are at a loss for words that this is the outcome. Many of us, together with our children, have kept vigil for 18 days, hoping and praying Eyal, Gilad and Naftali would come home alive. 

Now our fears have been realized, what do we do with all that pain, fear, anger and confusion? 

We have so many questions.

These are legitimate feelings and they need to be validated.
There are no bad or inappropriate feelings.

As we process our grief, we also need to consider our children, who are watching and learning from our responses. 

They will be listening to our conversations with other adults and learning about how we respond to bad news. 

Here are some things to remember:-

It is ok for your children to see you cry and to know that you are sad, anxious or angry about these events. But do not lean on them for support or spend hours telling them your concerns.

They may have a lot of questions and will be hearing information from their peers, from the media from school or from camp, as well as from you. 

Although you may want to protect your children from this devastating news, having a conversation is always better than encouraging your kids to keep their fears to themselves. They don't go away just because they are ignored. 

Children will respond differently according to their age, stage of development and their personality. If children are more sensitive or anxious they may need more support. If your children feel a personal bond to the families or towns that have been involved, if they have been keeping vigil, saying prayers, or sending supplies to Israeli soldiers, they may be especially affected by this latest news.

Here are 3 steps to help you help your children: 

Listen and Validate First

  • When children are ready to talk, be ready to listen and observe your child's non-verbal cues. Create a quiet place to have a conversation.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, talking about violent acts does not increase a child's fear. Keeping fears to themselves is more scary.
  • Find out what your children know already and what their thoughts are. 4 and 5 year olds may have heard information, they do not really understand. It is good to hear what they know, first.
  • Children and teens in trying to relate to the news, will personalize it to their own friends or issues in their own lives. Their fears may manifest in contexts that are familiar to them. Younger children may be worried about waiting for buses or kidnapping. Older children may be more focused on their independence, politics, fairness and punishment.
  • Children may not have the language to express their feelings. They can draw a picture,model with clay or  play with dolls or puppets instead and you can use their drawings or play as a springboard for discussion.
  • Acknowledge that your children's thoughts and questions are valid and important. (They may  not be the same as yours.)
  • Reassure them that many children and adults are feeling the same way. They are not alone in their feelings and they are all legitimate.

Answer Questions

  • In finding out what your child knows you can then fill in missing information using language they can understand. Keep it simple for young children. 
  • Give children honest answers and information. Use words that are real and accurate.
  • You may need to repeat information. Children may ask the same questions over and over.
  • Be reassuring and realistic about their own safety.
  • They may have questions you cannot answer about the power of prayer, the safety of other children in Israel or terrorism in general. Acknowledge that you do not have all the answers and suggest some ways you can discover them together. ie talking to a spiritual leader. Finding out information about how safety at bus stops in Israel is being tackled. What Israeli security has done and is doing to avert possible kidnappings in the future.
Give Support

  • Turn off the Television. With 24/7 news coverage, the same news is regurgitated over and over. Young children may not realize it is the same information and may find the repetition of information and images disturbing.
  • Keep children's routines as predictable and normal as possible.
  • Children who have experienced personal trauma or loss in the past may respond more severely to these events. They will need extra support and reassurance.
  • Kids may listen for a few minutes and then want to go and play. This is absolutely normal. They may have questions hours, days or weeks later or they may not want to discuss these events at all. All of these responses are normal.
  • Help children find a way to express their feelings and be helpful if they want to do something practical. They can write letters to the grieving families, to the President or Prime Minister of their country about terrorism or send supplies to soldiers or other victims of terror.
  • Watch for extended periods of anxiety, fear, sleeplessness, loss of appetite or other physical symptoms. Look for non-verbal clues or unusual emotional outbursts. Children should be evaluated by a mental health professional if they persist. Your children's doctor can help with a referral.
Please let me know if you found this helpful.

If you have any other general suggestions, thoughts or questions about comforting your children, please leave me a message below.

Feel free to share this information. 

My thoughts are with the families of Eyal,Gilad and Naftali. My thoughts are with the boys' extended families and their friends, neighbors and teachers. My thoughts are with everyone who is in pain and anguish over this devastating news. 

May the memories of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali be for a blessing. 

Sending much love and big hugs to you all.


Please contact a qualified mental health professional for more individual support, for yourself or your children.

The suggestions above have been compiled from the following sources.

An Israeli Psychologist responding to the murders, based in Israel
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry -Talking to Children About Terrorism  & War
NYU Child Study Center -Talking to Kids About Terrorism or Acts of War.
Straight Talk About Death For Teenagers -By Earl Grollman
A Terrible Thing Happened-By Margaret Holmes

P.S. You can always email me at or contact me via 
Twitter @bringingcomfort

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  1. Thanks Gilly, this is very helpful.

  2. Thank you for telling me. Take care. Gillyx

  3. My Mom sent this link to me, and I am glad to have read it.

    My children found out gory details from other people. They have not expressed any anxiety about it yet, but certainly this kind of thing is likely to have repercussions. In lieu of this post I'll keep on the lookout for signs of anxiety, and try to draw out their feelings at an appropriate time.


  4. Hi Aaron -Thank you very much for your comment. You raise an important point about children hearing gory details from their peers. We can't protect our kids from this information, so we need to be proactive in checking it is accurate, knowing how they are coping with it and providing emotional support as needed. Kids show great resilience in tough times,when their concerns are validated and they receive the support and role modeling from trusted, loving adults.It sounds as though you are ready to do all these things. Your kids will thank you! Gilly