Talking with Children in Difficult Times

Jessica

Parents and caregivers often struggle with ways to control the media influences in their children's lives. When screens and newspapers are filled with tragic news from a national or world crisis, it becomes even more important to find ways to open up conversations about difficult topics like the current conflict in Israel and Palestine.

BKLYN's Coordinator of Early Literacy Jessica Ralli has co-authored a book series that is helping adults start important conversations with children about many topics. This post is adapted with permission from an Instagram post by Jessica Ralli and the First Conversations team. You can find the First Conversation books here on our website.

Whether you are just starting, or continuing a conversation with the children in your care, here are some things to consider:

 
Looking for Reassurance

You can prepare for a conversation with your children by delving more deeply into what you know and what you believe. You don’t need to have all the answers, but it can help to do some self-reflection. What were you taught? Where do your beliefs come from? Do your beliefs hold up in this current moment? Why or why not? Children always ask why, and we should too. It’s powerful to model that when you don’t know something, you can find out together by listening to people who know more than you. And most likely kids are looking for more than just answers in this moment, they are looking for reassurance, safety, and love. 

It’s powerful to model that when you don’t know something, you can find out together by listening to people who know more than you. And most likely kids are looking for more than just answers in this moment, they are looking for reassurance, safety, and love. 

Starting the Conversation

You can start the conversation with some open-ended questions. Experts agree that it’s best not to sit this conversation out, because your children, even young ones, will most likely be aware in some part of what is happening, even if it is just that their grown ups seem upset. You can say “What have you heard about what is going on in Israel and Palestine?” And follow their lead from there. Listen to their ideas. Children have an important role to play in this moment, and can often see past the current violence toward a better future. Kids have beautiful, inspirational ideas if we listen to them.

“What have you heard about what is going on in Israel and Palestine?”

A Child Centered Approach

When approaching topics that make grown ups emotional or uncomfortable, we can inadvertently pass those charged feelings on to kids when we look directly at them. We may inadvertently make them feel pressured to respond or react in a certain way. Sometimes it helps to talk about tough topics while doing something else, like driving, taking a walk, or sitting side by side at a booth eating a meal together. You can always reassure them with a hug or an affirmation at any point in the conversation.

Sometimes it helps to talk about tough topics while doing something else, like driving, taking a walk, or sitting side by side at a booth eating a meal together. You can always reassure them with a hug or an affirmation at any point in the conversation.

Read books together

We believe books can be great conversation starters! Think about the voices that are being suppressed in this moment, and bring their stories to light. You can ask open-ended questions as you read together, like “What does this story make you think about?” or “What do you notice about the people in the story?” Follow their lead to continue the conversation from there. 

Make art together

Doing a hands on activity, like art making, is also a good way to ground a conversation with kids. If you are attending an in-person action with adults or as a family, create the protest signs together with the kids in your care, and talk about what those words mean. Let it be their language. You can encourage older kids to journal, draw, write letters or poetry in their own voices. Use their creations as a conversation starter with other families you know. If this is something you really love doing, offer to facilitate this activity at your kids school.

Make music together

What is your favorite protest song or chant? When did you learn it and what does it mean to you? Kids are excellent songwriters. If they have big feelings about things that feel unfair in this moment, write a protest song or chant together. Include instruments like shakers, tambourines, or anything else you have around the house.

Cook or bake together

If cooking or baking is something you enjoy doing with the kids in your care, now is the time. Cooking and baking is hands on, sensory and simply creates time for connecting. The stress we may be feeling can make grown-ups seem distant or disconnected from the kids in their care. This is one of many activities that can bring us back together. 

Deciding to Take Action

What you do in this moment matters, and your children are watching. Is it showing up for in person or virtual actions? Is it checking in with impacted friends family members? Is it learning more history and context than you knew before? Is it calling your representatives to demand a ceasefire? Is it making protest art? Whatever you can bring to this moment matters, and you can tell your children about it. Make it a part of your mealtime conversation. Include children in your actions as much as possible. 

BKLYN Library staff have created several booklists that parents may find helpful at this time.

Talking About Palestine With Kids

BKLYN: Talking with Kids About Israel and Jewish Life

Library patrons are welcome to share books that they would like to see included in our Brooklyn Public Library collection by using this Request to Purchase form. You can also request a personalized book list on any topic or theme by using BPL's Book Match service available on our website. Please include the child's age if the request is for children's books. 

 



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