Insights from psychologists and parenting specialists on initiating discussions, employing language suitable for different age groups, and embracing the uncertainty of not having all the solutions.
Amidst distressing news and images from the Israel-Gaza conflict dominating headlines and social media feeds, children naturally pose questions. In a world saturated with 24-hour news cycles and a mix of information and misinformation, how parents respond becomes crucial. Determining the appropriate language, timing, and honest engagement while safeguarding children from the harsh realities of war can be a challenging task. In this feature, The National consults with both parents and parenting experts to explore practical strategies for preparing and navigating conversations with children about such sensitive topics.
Mostafa Hassan, a resident of Dubai with two daughters aged nine and 14, shares, “Both of my children have been asking questions from the day it happened.” He recounts an incident where his youngest overheard discussions between him and his wife, subsequently expressing her observations through a drawn picture.
Psychologist and child specialist Dr. Ola Pykhtina emphasizes the importance of acknowledging young adults’ ability to comprehend the complexity of war and conflict, encouraging parents to create a space for them to articulate their thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes. She underscores the need for parental guidance in helping them navigate overwhelming information.
The dilemma of whether to initiate discussions or wait until children bring up the topic is a familiar one for parents. Community educator Lisa Sherrington-Boyd notes the uncertainty families face about whether to broach the subject before it arises at school or wait for it to be introduced. Dr. Jeanina Khouri, a consultant psychologist, points out that, in the age of social media and online news exposure, children may actively seek answers and reassurance from their parents.
Acknowledging the potential diversity of opinions and information children may encounter, Sherrington-Boyd suggests engaging children in conversation by asking about their perspectives. Dr. Khouri advises checking in with quieter children who may not readily express their thoughts.
For parents uncertain about broaching the topic directly, Dr. Pykhtina recommends observing children at play and listening to their conversations to gauge their existing knowledge and ideas. By understanding what children already know about the situation, parents can tailor the conversation to their child’s context.
Johanna Richmond, a psychologist at CBT Dubai, advises that responding to questions from young teenagers about the Israel-Gaza conflict should be factual and honest, albeit initially vague. Acknowledging children’s short attention spans, she suggests brief answers, emphasizing the sadness of the situation and promoting the value of dialogue over conflict.
Psychologist Dr. Ola Pykhtina recommends observing young adults’ emotional reactions to the news and engaging in conversations based on their understanding of the situation. This approach allows parents to gauge their child’s knowledge, correct misinformation, and provide ongoing support.
Experts advise parents to be mindful of when they initiate discussions, with settings like family dinners considered preferable to just before bedtime. Community educator Lisa Sherrington-Boyd emphasizes the potential need for multiple conversations, acknowledging the complexity that even adults find challenging to comprehend.
When discussing conflicts, parents are encouraged to use age-appropriate language and avoid labeling people as “bad” or “good.” It is crucial to remind children that a nation’s leadership does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of its entire population.
Mandeep Jassal, a behavioral therapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, suggests being open and transparent with children from a young age while avoiding language that may induce anxiety. Focusing on history as a basis for discussions, Mostafa Hassan emphasizes using news as a learning point, encouraging his daughters to read articles, examine geography, and understand historical context.
To alleviate anxiety, experts recommend steering conversations toward feelings, kindness, and human resilience. Parents can highlight humanitarian efforts, charitable causes, and instances of cross-cultural kindness. Dr. Pykhtina suggests discussing feelings openly and teaching the concept of peace, emphasizing a world where people of different backgrounds coexist.
In dealing with the unpredictability of global events, parents are advised to build children’s resilience by focusing on their strengths and encouraging problem-solving skills. Expressing gratitude and engaging in actions like sharing thoughts or prayers can provide a sense of agency during challenging times.
Overall, experts emphasize the importance of being available for children, listening to their concerns, and observing changes in behavior. It’s acknowledged that parents may not have all the answers, but maintaining an open and supportive environment remains crucial.