Are your children asking, “What’s going on in Israel?” Here are our top tips on answering your kids’ questions about war.

First, it was news of the recent Hamas attack on Israel. Then came reports of retaliation. The escalation of what’s happening in Israel has been all over the news. More locally, there have been protests and rallies.

No matter how much we may try to shield our children, social media and playground talk mean they would have heard something about what’s happening. Our children are asking questions and for some, the issue is causing them stress or anxiety.

As in most difficult topics, it’s always good for parents to have that conversation with their children first. This way, you can quickly address misinformation and put protective strategies in place. Your kids will also know they can always turn to you whenever they have questions—even tricky ones.

Here are some tips on how to talk to your children about the recent Israel-Hamas conflict, as well as answers to some basic questions they may have.

How old are your children?

Firstly, it’s important to approach the topic age-appropriately. If your children are aged four and under, unless they actually ask you what’s going on, avoid going into any detail. If they do ask, answer their questions as simply and directly as possible. Don’t provide too much information or detail as children will struggle to understand complexities.

Preschool-aged children are often more concerned that what’s happening will impact them, so address their fears or any other emotions they’re feeling.

You can provide more detail for older kids, including the reasons for the fighting.

Regardless of their age, there are five things to keep in mind when talking to them about what happened.

5 tips for talking to children about the Israel-Hamas conflict

It is important to allow children the time and opportunity to have a discussion about the issue. Find out what they already know and how they feel about the situation. This way, you can respond to them accordingly.

Here are five other things to keep in mind:

1. Don’t call it a war

Refer to the situation as a “conflict” because the concept of war for children can be very overwhelming.

Also, be mindful that language such as bombing, invasions and World War III can be anxiety provoking. Be factual, don’t sugarcoat, but avoid being too graphic.

It’s also important that your children understand what is happening is rare and doesn’t impact them.

2. Show them where Israel and Gaza are geographically

Get a map and point out to your children where exactly Israel and Gaza are, especially in relation to where they are. This will come in helpful especially in dealing with their fears and concerns.

Children may not know the proximity and consequences of things. Make it clear that Australia is safe.

3. Contextualise the conflict

In simple terms, tell them about the history of the conflict (basic answers are provided below) between Israel and Palestine. Explain to them why Hamas attacked and why Israel is retaliating.

Be respectful of all sides. Tell them the conflict is related to countries not getting along, but it can be difficult to determine just who is right or wrong.

However, resorting to violence means people are often hurt in the process and have to leave their homes.

4. Shift the focus to helping

Some children have a strong sense of justice and can take it to the next level with “making things right”. Acknowledge their desire to help, gently directing them towards what aid organisations are doing.

5. Have a break

While it’s important to talk to your children about the conflict, it’s also not helpful for it to be the only topic of conversation.

What to do if your child is worried about the violence in Israel and Gaza

Some children are happy to simply know the facts about what is happening. Then there are others who will develop feelings of anxiety surrounding the conflict. Make sure you listen to and address those fears, while helping them to feel safe and secure.

Here are five ways you can help if your child is worried about the conflict.

1. Stick to the facts

You can be honest with your children, while putting a boundary around how much they really need to know. Too much information or details can be overwhelming, especially for younger kids.

2. Help them understand the nature of news and media

Help children understand that while there are terrible things happening from the conflict, the news media tend to focus on those—and often on repeat. We can also help by turning the radio and TV off. Encourage your children to go offline. Stop discussing the issue for a while.

3. Identify what is driving the worry and if there is evidence to support it

Get your child to break down exactly what is causing them fear and concern. Take the time to help them to discover what they are really worried about. Emotions can have many layers and are often masked. Fear can often be mistaken as anger. Then help them explore if there is any evidence to support them feeling that way. Talk about logical reasons why what they fear won’t happen.

4. Normalise their feelings

When they’ve identified how they’re feeling, don’t dismiss it. Help them realise what they’re feeling is perfectly normal and that you’re concerned about the situation too. The key is to make the distinction between feeling bad and sad, and believing what’s happening will happen to them.

Model to your children how you’re not letting these emotions restrict your ability to get on with your life and day-to-day functions.

5. Monitor their social media use

Many children are getting their information from social media. Be mindful of what they’re consuming and help them to be discerning. Hamas has threatened to publicly broadcast Israeli hostages being executed, so parents will need to be especially vigilant.

Answering common questions about the conflict

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is so old, it originated in the Bible times. It can be difficult to distil the answers for children. Here are some answers that might help.

Hamas, Gaza, Palestine. Who are they?

Palestine is a region in the Middle East. Since 1948, much of its land has become part of the country of Israel, which has made many Palestinians upset.

Gaza, or the Gaza Strip, is one of two Palestinian territories, together with the West Bank. It is ruled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group opposed to the existence of Israel. It has been under blockade by both Israel and Egypt, devastating the region’s economy.

Why did Hamas attack Israel?

Hamas claims they attacked as a result of long-building anger over Israeli policy and treatment of Palestinians. Israel declared war on Hamas in response to the attack.

Who is right and who is wrong?

Both sides have their reasons for their actions and it is difficult to determine who is right or wrong. As with most conflicts, there are often different perspectives.

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