PREPARING FOR WAR:
Helping Your Children Cope in Your Protected Space
Dr. Batya L. Ludman
in a sealed room or bomb shelter at the best of times for an adult is
not easy, but should we have to go into our sealed rooms in the next war,
how can we make this an easier experience for our children?
1. Talk 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 familys 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.
2. Make 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 than we realize and most if not all children who attend school have had many prepatory drills and are both informed and quite cool about the whole thing. Several children may have had experiences climbing up ladders, trying on masks and other opportunities that may simply make adults cringe. Children 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 dont have to.
3. It is important to choose your words carefully to ensure that you get the message across 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. 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 difficult 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. While 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 who never thought about biological and chemical warfare for example, have now heard more than they care to know and may have lots of unanswered questions.
4. 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. The seriousness of all of the preparations has not eluded them nor has it given them comfort. Some children may wonder why if some of their friends have chosen to leave, you have made the decision to stay in their city or country. 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.
5. 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.
6. Make 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 and cord.
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.
8. Food and drinks should be child friendly. While one can only drink water when wearing a mask, other food and drinks should be kept in the miklat. Again food should be child friendly and each childs 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. (See recommendations for food in sealed packaging).
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 childrens medications should be available in the miklat
in the event that they will be needed.
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.
11. Help children feel that they are in control. Although we would all acknowledge that these are very unpredictable times, 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, homework and bedtimes, chugim 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.
12. Use 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 sheltert if you also have a radio.
13. Finally, 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.
Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Raanana. She works with children of all ages and their families as well as with adults and couples in short term solution focused psychotherapy. She specializes in trauma, bereavement and loss, stress, anxiety and depression, parenting issues, behavioral problems, and marital/communication issues. She does workshops on bereavement, stress management, and trauma, and has published extensively in both the professional and lay literature. She currently has a monthly column in the Jerusalem Post and is a frequent columnist for Israel News Agency. For more information, please view her website at http://go.to/drbatyaludman
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