Judith Powell of North Bellmore sits with an Israeli flag...

Judith Powell of North Bellmore sits with an Israeli flag during a rally to support Israel in East Meadow’s Eisenhower Park on Oct. 10. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Days after a war broke out on Israel's border with Gaza that has killed several thousand Israelis and Palestinians, Zoey Saacks' grandson asked her about the conflict when she picked him up from school.

He knew something was going on because his father's friend had been called back to Israel to serve as a reservist. The family also has relatives living in Israel.

“I’m 10 years old. I shouldn’t be thinking about these things,” Saacks said her grandson told her. Saacks, a social worker who is also the Hebrew school principal at the Chai Center in Dix Hills where she lives, validated his feelings.

“I said, ‘You’re right. You’re 10 years old, you shouldn’t,’ " she told her grandson.  "That’s what he needed to hear. I was intentional about creating a safe space where he felt comfortable sharing and exploring his feelings."

Talking to children about any war is difficult, but because Long Island has such a high concentration of Jewish families it makes the conversation more challenging, therapists and educators said. 

“Families who are really tied to Israel, this is something that 24/7 they are agonizing over,” said Laurie Zelinger, a child psychologist in private practice in Cedarhurst.

Experts urge parents of all religions and beliefs to take the lead and listen to what their children already know, then talk to them in an age-appropriate way in line with their family’s value system. Even young children are likely seeing images on television, overhearing parents’ conversations, or picking up information from friends at school, the experts said.

Experts offered parents this advice:

Zelinger created the acronym for her children’s book “Please Explain Terrorism to Me!” (Loving Healing Press, 2016). "P" stands for prepare — before speaking to your child, do your own research using trusted, reliable sources to sculpt the message you want to give them. "E" is for explaining to them in your own words based on their age and developmental level. "A" is for answering their questions, and "R," "L" and "S" stand for reassuring them, listening to them and helping them understand how they are being kept safe.

Tell children what they seem to want to know, no more or no less, Zelinger said. Parents don’t have to immediately get into the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with young children. Wait for them to ask for more and add to their understanding like bricks to a wall, Zelinger said.

When they do want to talk about it, Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights attorney from Washington, D.C., suggests parents present a message that advocates a peaceful future."If these parents are at all in favor of peace, reconciliation and understanding, they have to tell their children that violence is not the answer," he said. "You have to start by telling them … we need to find a way to live together."

At Temple Beth David in Commack, the Hebrew School staff decided to only address the issue with students below fifth grade if the children brought it up in class, said Senior Rabbi Beth Klafter. As for older children, Klafter has been visiting their classrooms to talk to sixth and seventh graders, and she is also interacting with the congregation’s teens in person and college students via Zoom.

She said she makes sure students have facts and understand that “Hamas does not equal Muslim." 

"Not all Palestinians are Hamas, and not all Muslims are Hamas,” she said. The temple sent an email to all Hebrew School parents Oct. 11 with more suggestions on how to talk to children at each grade level.

Many people are posting on social media about people who have been killed or are missing. “The assumption is there will be horrific imagery,” Klafter said. Older children may also be searching online for information about the conflict. “You don’t know where the kids are going to land on the internet if they are just randomly Googling,” Klafter said.

Shield children from too much exposure to televised images. Explain to them that TV programs may replay videos and that doesn’t necessarily mean new things are happening, Zelinger said.

Saacks offered her grandson a photo of a Jewish person in a prayer shawl praying alongside a Muslim on a prayer mat. Her grandson had previously said to her, "I wish everyone could put down their weapons and have peace in their hearts," and she wanted to reinforce his hope with the photo. “He said, “Can you send it to me? I want it to be my screen saver,’” Saacks said.

“Say, ‘Our relatives are smart. They’re doing things to be safe and helping each other as best as they can,’” Zelinger said. If children ask if they are safe here at home, parents can return to Zelinger's recommendation in the "S" of PEARLS — discuss with them which safeguards are in place. 

Young children might draw cards to send to soldiers. Middle schoolers might help pack boxes of donations.

“When you feel scared and you can do something that makes you feel you’re contributing to the solution, that helps people to deal with their anxiety,” Zelinger said. Saacks echoed Zelinger. “This is an opportune time for empathy for people who are hurting,” Saacks said. “We can channel it into good. Channel it into caring," Saacks said. "A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

Days after a war broke out on Israel's border with Gaza that has killed several thousand Israelis and Palestinians, Zoey Saacks' grandson asked her about the conflict when she picked him up from school.

He knew something was going on because his father's friend had been called back to Israel to serve as a reservist. The family also has relatives living in Israel.

“I’m 10 years old. I shouldn’t be thinking about these things,” Saacks said her grandson told her. Saacks, a social worker who is also the Hebrew school principal at the Chai Center in Dix Hills where she lives, validated his feelings.

“I said, ‘You’re right. You’re 10 years old, you shouldn’t,’ " she told her grandson.  "That’s what he needed to hear. I was intentional about creating a safe space where he felt comfortable sharing and exploring his feelings."

Talking to children about any war is difficult, but because Long Island has such a high concentration of Jewish families it makes the conversation more challenging, therapists and educators said. 

“Families who are really tied to Israel, this is something that 24/7 they are agonizing over,” said Laurie Zelinger, a child psychologist in private practice in Cedarhurst.

Experts urge parents of all religions and beliefs to take the lead and listen to what their children already know, then talk to them in an age-appropriate way in line with their family’s value system. Even young children are likely seeing images on television, overhearing parents’ conversations, or picking up information from friends at school, the experts said.

Experts offered parents this advice:

Follow the PEARLS acronym.

Zelinger created the acronym for her children’s book “Please Explain Terrorism to Me!” (Loving Healing Press, 2016). "P" stands for prepare — before speaking to your child, do your own research using trusted, reliable sources to sculpt the message you want to give them. "E" is for explaining to them in your own words based on their age and developmental level. "A" is for answering their questions, and "R," "L" and "S" stand for reassuring them, listening to them and helping them understand how they are being kept safe.

Start with the basics.

Tell children what they seem to want to know, no more or no less, Zelinger said. Parents don’t have to immediately get into the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with young children. Wait for them to ask for more and add to their understanding like bricks to a wall, Zelinger said.

When they do want to talk about it, Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights attorney from Washington, D.C., suggests parents present a message that advocates a peaceful future."If these parents are at all in favor of peace, reconciliation and understanding, they have to tell their children that violence is not the answer," he said. "You have to start by telling them … we need to find a way to live together."

Consider involving spiritual advisers.

At Temple Beth David in Commack, the Hebrew School staff decided to only address the issue with students below fifth grade if the children brought it up in class, said Senior Rabbi Beth Klafter. As for older children, Klafter has been visiting their classrooms to talk to sixth and seventh graders, and she is also interacting with the congregation’s teens in person and college students via Zoom.

She said she makes sure students have facts and understand that “Hamas does not equal Muslim." 

"Not all Palestinians are Hamas, and not all Muslims are Hamas,” she said. The temple sent an email to all Hebrew School parents Oct. 11 with more suggestions on how to talk to children at each grade level.

Keep a close eye on your child’s screen time.

Many people are posting on social media about people who have been killed or are missing. “The assumption is there will be horrific imagery,” Klafter said. Older children may also be searching online for information about the conflict. “You don’t know where the kids are going to land on the internet if they are just randomly Googling,” Klafter said.

Shield children from too much exposure to televised images. Explain to them that TV programs may replay videos and that doesn’t necessarily mean new things are happening, Zelinger said.

Use images reinforcing peace and human kindness.

Saacks offered her grandson a photo of a Jewish person in a prayer shawl praying alongside a Muslim on a prayer mat. Her grandson had previously said to her, "I wish everyone could put down their weapons and have peace in their hearts," and she wanted to reinforce his hope with the photo. “He said, “Can you send it to me? I want it to be my screen saver,’” Saacks said.

If your family has relatives in Israel or Gaza, reassure children.

“Say, ‘Our relatives are smart. They’re doing things to be safe and helping each other as best as they can,’” Zelinger said. If children ask if they are safe here at home, parents can return to Zelinger's recommendation in the "S" of PEARLS — discuss with them which safeguards are in place. 

Consider taking action.

Young children might draw cards to send to soldiers. Middle schoolers might help pack boxes of donations.

“When you feel scared and you can do something that makes you feel you’re contributing to the solution, that helps people to deal with their anxiety,” Zelinger said. Saacks echoed Zelinger. “This is an opportune time for empathy for people who are hurting,” Saacks said. “We can channel it into good. Channel it into caring," Saacks said. "A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

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