With over a million of our brethren in harm’s way in Eretz Yisroel, barely 2 weeks after the catastrophic events of Hurricane Sandy, we are inundated with stressful, fearful news, just waiting to hear more bad news, R’L. As difficult as it is for adults to absorb, react and remain positive and strong, it is so much more traumatic for the children. We want our children to know what is happening, to feel empathy for those who are suffering, balanced by a need to not overexpose or unnecessarily frighten them.
Not being directly involved obviously minimizes the emotional issues, but nevertheless the fear and anxiety is there and those who ignore it do so at their own peril. Our children need our help. We had short Tehillim gatherings today in school for children grades 2 and up and shared the broad outlines of what is happening. We encouraged them to daven and do acts of Chesed to create zechusim (merits) on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Children in grades K and 1 were also spoken to briefly, gently and encouragingly.
Parents should likewise be guiding and supporting the children at this time. Each family is impacted in its own way and needs to adjust the suggestions accordingly. What follows is a basic set of guidelines for supporting our children in a time of crisis:
Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
Be honest with children and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
Limit exposure to television and the news. Images make a deep impact, continuous exposure can be harmful.
Listen to the children’s fears and concerns. Listening and really understanding what the child’s concerns are is more important than simply talking. If it’s not clear what is underlying the child’s question(s), ask “What made you think of that?”
Reassure children that Hashem runs the world, and that everything that happens, is for the best.
Point out that the world is a good place, but that there are people who do bad things.
Involve children in something concrete to help. Collecting tzedaka, saying Tehillim or writing letters or drawings for and to children in affected areas.
We hope and daven that these guidelines will be unnecessary, and the safety and security of our people will be quickly restored. If Chas V’Sholom circumstances go in a different direction, it will be helpful to be prepared.
Best wishes for a safe and reassuring Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann