As an educator and a parent, I know my task is not only to provide answers. I know that allowing children the opportunity to discover, question, challenge, and struggle is just as valuable, if not much more. But in times of crisis, in times where the news from Israel breaks my heart, I find it hard to remember that.
In these times, I find myself alternating between trying to shield them from the ugly reality outside and struggling not to explain it away with charts and maps and impassioned pleas. But I work on doing better. Here’s how:
1. I need to listen better. My children are not worried about the same things I am. They have fears that are sometimes simpler and sometimes far more complicated. Our conversations about the current situation in Israel are most successful when they begin with what my children want to know, not what I want to tell them.
2. I need to take their questions at face value and not make assumptions. When my son was 4, he saw a picture in a children’s bible about the moment when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac. He made us tell him the story. When we got to the part where Abraham raised the knife, about to sacrifice Isaac, he stopped us in horror. “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” he barged in. And we cringed, terrified to explain to him the unexplainable. “Where did he get the knife?” While my husband and I had expected him to ask the adult question, “How could Abraham kill his son?” Jonah’s 4-year-old mind was focused on a much more concrete question.
3. Sometimes my job is to help them care about what’s going on halfway around the world. Not to scare them, but to help them connect to their cousins and relatives in Israel, as well as to the people they don’t know who make up the Jewish people, the ordinary people of the area.
4. I need to be a model for them of caring and action. Truthfully, sometimes my kids are not interested by what’s going on in Israel. They are at school or at camp, hanging out with their friends, unbothered by ominous events across the ocean, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes my job is to help them care about what’s going on halfway around the world. By showing them that I care, they learn to care. They see me emailing friends and calling family members, and they learn it’s important. We talk about the organizations we send aid to, the way we lend our support. This goes far beyond any moment in time. Israel is always a part of our lives in America, and therefore it’s a part of theirs too.
5. I need to reassure them. My kids have Israeli aunts and uncles, first cousins, some of whom serve in the IDF, and friends whose families are all there. They want to make sure they are OK. Letting them talk to their cousins, write notes, and see that despite current challenges, Israelis make a concerted effort to go about their daily routines. Israel is not just a country on a map. It’s a land filled with people and stories, and often I turn to the stories of real people to help them understand why I’m concerned, why this is important to us as a family, as a community, and as the Jewish people.
6. I need to do a better job of controlling what they see and hear on the media. My children watch TV and go onto the computer on their own, and they have a lot of freedom in those areas. I’m not interested in hiding information from them, but much of what they may see, particularly online and on the news, is both disturbing and often not accurate. For that reason, I’ve asked them to allow me to be their curator for information they are looking for and to come to me when they have questions about the situation. Together we can find information they are curious about and I can show them how I look for stories on various news sources to get a fuller picture.
However you choose to approach talking with your children and teens, if you’re committed to listening and keeping an open channel of communication, you will make an important impression. And while some conversations will go better than others, these moments are part of a long timeline of conversations, and there’ll always be bumps in the road. I find every time I admit I don’t know an answer, every time I commit to my children to do the best to find the answers they’re looking for, they come back with more questions.
This excerpt is courtesy of the iCenter for Israel Education. To read more, click here.