Travel, for many of us, is significantly motivated by our desire to learn (particularly alongside our children) about different people and parts of the world. While the horrific news right now is the most unfortunate way to learn about another place, it still offers an opportunity to help your kids (and ourselves) better understand this part of the world, what is happening, and why. How to approach the situation and what to say can be unsettling and deserves thoughtful consideration.
Whether you’ve watched or discussed the recent news in the Middle East with your kids or not, if they are old enough to be in school, there’s a likely chance they’ve at least heard something about it from other students. If they are on social media*, that’s likely a guarantee! Your kids need to know that you are the best source for talking about this information, not their classmates or the internet.
The conflict may be far away in distance, but many people in our communities are directly impacted by what’s going on, and even if it isn’t affecting us directly, it’s a pretty heavy topic emotionally. Your kids will appreciate knowing that there is a safe space for them to ask questions and discuss their thoughts and emotions.
Social Media Warning:
Inform yourself first
There were many complex dynamics around the situation in the Middle East even before these most recent tragedies. Before speaking to my kids, I wanted to make sure that I felt a little more confident in my own understanding of the situation. I found tons of information online, but, as with everything, I wanted to make sure I was getting the most accurate and factual information out there so that I could properly dispel or discuss any rumors or opinions my kids may be hearing.
By far the best resource I found was the BBC. Here is a link to the best explanation I could find; “Israel Gaza war: History of the conflict explained.” It covers a lot and does so in a clear and succinct way. They cover Israel before 1948 and the Balfour Declaration, what the Gaza Strip is, the main problems between Israelis and Palestinians in a bulleted list, and a great map to give geographical context. Within the article, there are also links to other subtopic articles if you want to go deeper into any of those. They explain things more clearly than anywhere else I’ve found and I was so impressed that the desire to share this great source is what inspired this post.
I also highly recommend “Israel’s borders explained in maps” which can be very helpful for visual learners. These are articles that you could also share with your children if you feel they are old enough, though I want to mention that there are a few links and pictures on the side menu that are a bit more disturbing.
Talking with your kids
Once you have the knowledge and understanding about the area and situation yourself, you can start planning HOW you want to approach the conversation with your kids. I’ve read dozens of advice articles from our schools and other trustworthy sources, and I’ve linked to some of the best ones below, but here is a summary of my own notes I wanted to make sure to keep in mind with my approach.
First, most resources talk about keeping things age-appropriate, which can offer some vague outlines, but I find it most helpful to just follow your own child’s lead and trust your gut. You know your child best and what they can handle or not. You can also watch for signs of distress or other heightened emotions as well as how much curiosity they may or may not have around the topic. The only truly age-related advice I saw universally is that children under the age of around 6-8 should really not be exposed to any of this. Even if they aren’t sitting and watching the news with you, they pick up on more than we realize and will have a hard time processing some of the very scary things they may see or overhear.
Tips and Reminders:
- Start by finding out what they have already heard or not.
- Be direct. You don’t have to go deep into details, but clarity builds trust where vagueness leaves ways for imaginations to run wild. When you don’t know the answer or how to explain something, that’s okay to say too.
- Reassure them that they are safe. I’m very hopeful that anyone reading this is out of harm’s way as well as relatives and friends.
- Start higher level and follow their lead. You can gauge their interest and concern by what and how many questions or comments they are making. If you aren’t sure if they want to talk more or go deeper on anything, you can ask them.
- Ask how they are feeling. Let them know that these things can affect some people differently and at different times and that new emotions may still come up at a later time, reassuring them that that is normal and you are there to talk if and when they need to.
Bonus Tip: A better way to ask “How are you?”
I recently heard this advice and have started using it when I ask my kids about their day and I love it! We all know the answer 95% of the time, to the question “How are you?”, is going to be some variation of “fine”. Instead, ask them on a 1-10 scale how they are doing. I now use this when I pick my kids up from school. Instead of asking how their day was (yep, “fine”) I now ask them to rate it. Now, not only do they give me a number so that I’m learning a better sense of how things are really going, but I find this also opens the door for them to explain their answer if they want to talk about it, which they have done every day so far!
- Your approach will set the tone. The strongest message they will remember will not be your words, but how you are reacting and handling this emotional situation. We can show sadness, anger, fear, or anything else, but we have to still talk about it calmly and not allow it to take over. Talking about these difficult situations in a calm or measured way will help them find comfort with their own emotions, and build trust in your relationship.
- Make sure you’ve answered any of their lingering questions before ending the discussion, and reminding them again that you’ll be there if anything else comes up. This conversation is not necessarily just a one-time thing but an ongoing dialog as things continue to evolve.
- Give them their space and time to process. Move on to other tasks or conversations if they need to take a break from the weight of processing this all.
- Finally, remind them not to trust everything they may hear or read. This is a good time to talk about reliable sources and fact-checking. Present yourself as their best resource for helping them find more information. Most importantly, if they are on social media, remind them that social media is NOT a trustworthy source. Even with the best intentions, it is not an adequate resource for sharing complex information.
If you want to read more advice about talking to your kids, here are some great resources (the full websites) and specific articles below that we got from our children’s schools and/or have used ourselves.