How to talk to children about the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to experts

Credit: PA

By Alicia Curry, ITV News Multimedia Producer

Whether directly or indirectly impacted by the tragedies that are being witnessed in the Israeli-Hamas conflict, children are disproportionately affected by violence.

The high-profile coverage of the conflict naturally leads to conversations around the topic, but navigating discussions with children around war can be difficult.

Social media is a tool for accessing information, both accurate and inaccurate, that could evoke difficult emotions in young people.

Sadness, fear and helplessness are all common reactions to conflict, but how do you talk to your children about their worries? And when is it time to limit their access to news sources?

Here, ITV News speaks to experts, who share their tips on how adults can hold supportive and constructive chats with children.

Should parents talk to children about the conflict?

Living away from the warzone can make it tempting to avoid conversations around the scenes in Israel and Gaza, but children are perceptive and have a great awareness of the world around them.

Martin Forster, a child psychologist, says it's important to create a safe space for young people to talk through questions and feelings they may have by being inquisitive and letting them lead.

"Get a grip of what your child is thinking by asking questions like: Have you heard about this? Have you been talking about that with your friends are at school? What do you know? What do you think about it?

"That way the child can start to express worries if they have any," he suggested.

From there, adults can provide reassurance on the child's safety and validate their concerns.

People light candles a vigil at Parliament Square in London, for victims and hostages of the Hamas Credit: PA

How much detail is too much for children?

Content and information shared with younger children should be age-appropriate.

Harrowing images are emerging from the conflict and Dr Forster urges parents not to go into "gruesome details" and use "personal judgement" to assess what should be shared.

"You should be honest if children ask things like how many people have dies but don't expose them to how they died," he explained as an example.

Should parents limit their children's social media intake?

Exposure to social media is a long-running concern for adults, particularly over the circulation of uncensored and graphic images and videos.

Dr Forster guides that it's a personal choice to place limits on social media usage but that by keeping that line of communication open and providing them a talking space will help to ensure greater safety for the child.

Credit: Pixabay

How can children be encouraged to feel safe when talking about violence?

James Denselow, Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Advocacy at Save the Children told ITV News that children rely on adults to be protectors and that violence can damage that perception.

"When the violence is committed against children, particularly in instances of more intimate violence - such as in Israel and Gaza were they are being held hostage or killed by gunmen - there's a threat that their child status no longer protects them."

He explained that it's important to bolster trust in adults by addressing the wider community of adults that are trying to push back against war crimes by seeking accountability and justice for children.

"There's no checklist on how to help a child feel psychologically safe but making sure they sleep well, communicate and have healthy coping mechanisms can also ease their worries," Mr Denselow added.

If children are directly impacted by the conflict, how can they be reassured?

The UK government believes up to 60,000 British nationals are in Israel or Gaza, meaning many families are facing the reality of loved ones being caught up in the conflict.

"It can be scary for children if someone they know and care about is involved and this is a normal response so it's important to validate how they feel," Dr Forster said.

Acknowledging the problems in their life without a solution can make them feel heard and "explaining that you're worried too might also help them feel less alone," he added.

Credit: PA

How can parents talk about threats to their safety in the UK?

Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities have reported a surge in hate incidents since the resurgence of the Israel-Hamas violence.

The government announced extra security around schools and synagogues after a particular spike in anti-Semitic attacks.

Children have been encouraged to remove clothing or jewellery which could indicate affiliation to particular religions as a preventative measure.

Using metaphors can help children understand the importance of self-protection, Dr Forster explained.

"When we drive our car we use a seatbelt, not because we're going to crash but because it's a safety precaution. We do things to make us more safe, even if the risk is relatively low."

Credit: PA

Should children be distracted from the war?

"It's important to not overload them, go on days out, encourage them to play sports or paint, anything that can help take their minds off those intense fears," Dr Forster said.

But both experts acknowledged that if the child's feelings are disruptive to the functioning of their everyday, it could be time to consider professional help.

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