Project Chai: How to Help Our Children In Times of Trauma & Threatening Events
Project Chai of Chai Lifeline for guidance with how to help our children in times of trauma and threatening events in our midst. The following are the guidelines suggested by Dr. Fox:
1. Acknowledge that you are aware of the situation and ask if the students/children have heard about this news
2. Ask them what they have heard, and be sure to correct gross exaggerations or misunderstandings lest this foments greater panic
3. Ask how they are feeling, what they are feeling, after pre-validating that the news has caused all of us to have internal reactions, such as worry, fear.
4. Validate their reactions, reframe the more dramatic reactions such as if a child or older student discloses extreme decisions (“I’m not going outside again”; “I am never going to daven without kavana again”), and normalize reactions which are on the spectrum of understandable responses for their age level. Observe younger children, pre-school age, at play for signs of aggression, distress or withdrawal. It is less likely that the current event will impact this age group, but be vigilant for atypical behaviors which might signal their confusion or fear. Elementary age children who are more likely to hear “news” often need to understand details. You can offer them clarity that limits and contains their potential for fearful reactions, filtering your remarks through a “shield” of reassurance. Older children in their teens are more likely to entertain abstract ideas, philosophical and spiritual musings and preoccupations, and may be receptive to your own willingness to address and frame their accurate grasp of matters and their meaning. Fine tune your input to match their actual level of concern.
5. Offer reassurance, both in term of our bitachon, and in terms of steps taken by the school, shul, to provide security and monitoring of premises.
6. Explore diversionary projects and age appropriate levels, so that students feel that they are taking some reparative action via focused learning, tehillim, inspired tefilla, writing, drawing etc. as a means of ventilating their fears, sadness, anger.
7. Offer reassurance but do not make promises which you cannot keep or vouch for, and make it clear that you will be there for them to discuss concerns, and for them to share anything that they hear which concerns them.
Dr. Fox reminds us that our sages, and the Zohar haKodesh, have described a late emerging phase during “Golus Edom” which is known as Golus Yishmael. The rapid emergent incidents across the globe seem to us like harbingers of that time, this Ikvasa D’Meschica. For adults, this is ironically comforting, as we see the footsteps of redemption picking up in pace and energy. Still, there is an uneasiness implicit as we are confronting threats to our presumptive safety and our familiar routine. This feeling can trickle down to our children, and we have a key challenge to model for them our trust and faith. Let us all mentor for them and for ourselves fervent bitachon and palpable emuna.
Project Chai is the Trauma, Crisis and Bereavement department of Chai Lifeline. Dr. Fox along with the Associate Directors Rabbi Yaakov Klar, LCSW and Mrs. Zahava Farbman, LCSW are available to the Los Angeles community for consultation and guidance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855.3.CRISIS. Dr. Fox can be reached directly at 323 653 2785