Your Children Cope If Israel Is Attacked
Israel News Agency
14...... Being in a sealed room or bomb shelter in Israel is not easy for an adult
at the best of times, but should we have to go into our shelters today or tomorrow,
how can we make this an easier experience for our children?
children in Israel will cope very well with being in a shelter as they will be
with their parents and will therefore feel secure. Assuming that parents remain
calm and are in control, children will feel safe. It is important to remember
that if you are calm-they will be calm.
can make this a “fun” experience, stay in control and give them a sense of safety
and security. This should be your primary concern. While few would acknowledge
that the experience of being in a closed space for an unknown period of time with
children is enjoyable, there are ways to make the best out of the situation and
make things more bearable. Here are a few suggestions for the Israel public.
to your children before there might be an actual need to use the “safe room” but
wait till the time seems right. Let them know that should the situation warrant
it, you would be taking them into the designated space. Describe the space or
area that they will be in. For some families, a rehearsal or simply seeing the
space may seem like a good idea and can help everyone plan and prepare. For others,
it may only provoke anxiety. You know your family’s needs the best. Some children
may benefit from having a buddy to chat with and this may be something you may
want to arrange with another parent who has a child that is close in age and whose
family has similar beliefs.
the information developmentally and age appropriate. The impact of preparing a
safe space on your child is very much dependent on their age and stage of emotional
development, their temperament, your anxiety level and their proximity or exposure
to previous or current danger. Typically, children do best with simple and straightforward
explanations and not a lot of unnecessary details. While it is important to be
honest and upfront, it serves no purpose to overwhelm them with your fears. Many
children know far more about what is happening in Israel than we realize and most,
if not all, children who attend school have had many preparatory drills and are
both informed and quite “cool” about the whole thing.
can go from being intensely concerned by details to nonchalantly playing with
a friend in a short span of time. Adults, on the other hand, tend to be more uptight
and anxious for more prolonged periods of time. You may be feeling tense but they
don’t have to. It is important to choose your words carefully to ensure that you
get across the message that you hope to convey. When listening to their questions,
you may need to probe deeper to find out what they are really asking, or maybe,
it is only you, and not they, that see the deeper issues. You do not need to be
an expert on Lebanon, Syria, Iran or Gaza.
It is important to clear up any inaccuracies that your children may have as this
confusion can only complicate an already difficult situation. The element of not
being able to predict can be especially hard and this fear of the unknown is often
what causes us the most anxiety as we play games in our minds and imagine the
worst. This is important to point out to children as often they do the same.
it is fine to acknowledge that you have concerns and cannot necessarily answer
all the questions, you can also help them have many of their concerns addressed
and clarified. Some children have never thought about the possibility of being
in any danger so they may have lots of unanswered questions. Older children worry
more about their own safety and about that of adults that are important to them.
Death becomes more real and while some children may be oblivious, others may appear
depressed, scared, withdrawn or preoccupied.
seriousness of the news on Israel television, radio or Internet has not eluded
them nor has it given them comfort. You may be asked very difficult questions.
In any event, children need to talk, express their concerns and have their feelings
validated. You are the one person who can provide this reassurance. You need to
convey to them that their safety takes top priority and you are doing all that
you can to ensure this. Very young children may need little information beyond
telling them that they will be in a room with their parents and will play. Children
need to know that you will be there for them and if not you, someone whom you
have chosen that is an equally good substitute. Lots of hugs and a good cuddle
can go a long way to helping children feel comfortable.
the space as child friendly as possible. Let children pick one or two things that
they set aside as special to bring into the room with them. This may be their
favorite blanket, a puzzle or a toy. For older children, a game boy, a book, musical
instrument such as a guitar, a deck of cards or just a note pad and pen may be
fine. Arts and crafts supplies, photo albums and other family ideas are great
to help pass the time. Now may be the perfect opportunity to work on creating
a family collage. A tape recorder and tapes can also be soothing for everyone.
It may even be fun to create your own family tape of songs and stories.
sure that the space is child safe. There should not be dangerous shelving units
or other heavy pieces of furniture that could fall off the wall, open plugs or
sharp objects that a child can be injured by. A fan can be very helpful as the
room can get quite stuffy but again attention needs to be focused on the blades
the children so they feel good about their protected space. Ask for their thoughts
and input on various safety issues and plan assignments that work for each of
them. Young children can be in charge of making temporary decorations and older
children can help collect the supplies and foodstuffs. They can also help to organize
the area. Each child can have a job specific to his or her age. Everyone can think
of a special game, song or finger play that they will help to teach to others.
clear and consistent about the rules in the shelter. For example, if the rule
is that everyone has to go into the shelter when a parent says to go in, then
children need to know that this is critical. There is no room for negotiation
but you can give choices whenever possible. For example, a younger child needs
to know that when a parent says to go into the shelter when told, he must do so.
However, he can be given choices as to whom he sits next to, and can choose which
game to play. This can also be reinforced through stickers that the children get
to put on their books or on a chart or through picking a nonedible treat for later
from a small surprise bag of goodies.
and drinks should be child friendly. Food and drinks should be kept in the miklat
which are child friendly. Each child’s special treat can be set aside for a rough
moment. Each person should have his or her own individually sealed color-coded
water bottles, as these are the safest to drink from.
the health needs of your child. Keep some diapers for young children and a potty
bucket or chemical toilet for older children. A supply of children’s medications
should be available in the miklat in the event that they will be needed.
is important. Keep a second set of clothes for each child in the room so that
a change of clothing can be done easily. For younger children, long sleeved pajamas
may be the perfect choice in terms of comfort.
relaxation. Practice relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation or prayer to enable
everyone to feel calm. Young children do well when they can pretend to be limp
spaghetti noodles and older children like to pretend that they are lying on a
nice beach or floating on a pond.
up and be prepared on what supplies you should have with you and know what the
suggested emergency procedures and numbers are for your area in Israel. Keep this
list close at hand.
children feel that they are in control. Although we would all acknowledge that
these are very unpredictable times in Israel, it is helpful for children to have
predictability. When they are not in the shelter, it is important to keep up with
routine as much as possible. Schedules with respect to meals, bedtimes, and play
dates with other children help give everyone a sense of normalcy. Routine is also
important should we need to use our protected space over time. If children become
familiar with a pattern, they know what to expect and are less anxious and more
matter of fact. In spite of all of increased difficulties over the past two years,
look how well most of us have coped and have made the unpredictable, routine.
television as a tool to help you and the family relieve stress and beware of the
impact that it has on the children if things should escalate. Children may not
be able to differentiate reality from fantasy and a television on in the background
may not be quite as harmless for little ears as you think. Renting a video or
exchanging videos with friends may be the best form of family entertainment and
can be a useful distracter in the shelter if you also have a radio.
in order to look after our children we must look after ourselves. If you or your
children are not coping well, get professional help to enable you to be less anxious.
Children need to see you as an effective role model. We all hope and pray that
soon we will be able to look back at this and laugh at how over-prepared we were.
Preparation is a wonderful way to cope when we are not yet quite sure just what
it is we are going to be coping with. In the meantime, while there are no easy
answers and these are only suggestions, enabling your child to feel comfortable
and secure is one of the best gifts you can provide during these very difficult
times. Good luck.
Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana,
Israel. She specializes in trauma, bereavement and loss, stress, anxiety and depression,
parenting issues, behavioral problems, marital and communication issues. She conducts
workshops on bereavement, stress management, and trauma, and has published extensively
in both the professional and lay literature. Ludman currently has a bi-monthly
column in The Jerusalem Post. For more information, please view her website at