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Children are watching war on social media

Tips to help you explain what is happening

How you can explain the war your kids are seeing in the media

On October 7th,  Hamas launched a deadly attack against Israel killing over 1,000 Israeli and Palestinians, some of whom were children. Graphic images of war and its casualties have spread across social media and TV. Especially on social media, the images are very graphic, explicit and disturbing. Children have likely seen modern day images of war from the Russian Ukraine war which began in 2022. 

As children are back in school and aware of what is going in the world around them, mental health experts like NYC Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez believe it is imperative for parents to communicate with their children starting at whatever age they are cognizant enough to know that war is being waged in Israel. How do you have these discussions and what is age appropriate?

Dr. Sanam Hafeez of Comprehend the Mind provides a guide for parents

Consider their age and maturity:

Tailor your conversation to the child's age and level of understanding. Younger children may need simpler explanations, while older children can handle more complex discussions.

Find an appropriate time and place:

Choose a quiet and comfortable setting where you can have a focused conversation without distractions.

Listen first:

Ask your child what they know or have heard about war. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. This will help you understand their perspective and address their specific concerns.

Use simple and honest language:

Explain the concept of war in simple terms, using age-appropriate language. Be honest but avoid graphic details or unnecessary information that might be distressing.

Be calm and reassuring:

Children may feel scared or anxious about the idea of war. Reassure them that they are safe and that you will do everything you can to protect them.

Provide historical context:

If the child is older, you can give them some historical context about past wars and conflicts. Explain that wars have occurred throughout history but also emphasize that there are efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts peacefully.

Emphasize empathy and tolerance:

Teach your child about the importance of empathy, understanding, and tolerance. Explain that wars often result from misunderstandings and differences between people and that it's essential to promote peace and unity.

Address questions and concerns:

Encourage your child to ask questions and express their concerns. Answer their questions honestly, but avoid speculating about the future or making unrealistic promises.

Limit exposure to disturbing media:

In today's digital age, children may come across distressing images or news about war on television, social media, or the internet. Monitor their media consumption and ensure they are exposed to age-appropriate content.

READ MORE: Answering our kid’s questions about violence in the world

Offer coping strategies:

Teach children healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety, such as deep breathing exercises, drawing, writing, or talking to a trusted adult.

Reiterate your love and support:

Remind your child that you love them and will always be there to support and protect them. Emphasize the importance of family and community in times of uncertainty.

Encourage positive actions:

Inspire your child to take positive actions, such as volunteering, supporting charities, or learning about conflict resolution, to make the world a better place.

Teach About Misinformation

Parents should also inform children about misinformation, which is certainly everywhere in war and on social media. Explain to your child the meaning of 'gossip' and how people or entities benefit from it. Cite examples that might occur in your child’s school regarding how 'fake news' might be spread about a student, a sports team or a teacher. 

Depending on the age of the child, parents can explain the meaning of “clickbait” and how to recognize it. Parents should also ask their kids where they typically go for information. Explain to them that some websites are purposely satirical, and why that satire exists. Project Look Sharp," a non-profit dedicated to media literacy, has devised questions to help older kids evaluate online information.

Show me what's scary'

Ask your child to show you images or videos that he or she deems scary online or on social media, Ask them what elements they find scary. If the child perceives these videos or photos as scary, ask why they are drawn to them in the first place. Kids may not know they can "hide" material on social media that they find offensive or upsetting. As their parent, show them how this can be done so they can have a less triggering social media experience.

Dr. Sanam Hafeez is a New York City based Neuropsychologist and School Psychologist.  She is also the founder and director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C.  She is currently a teaching faculty member at Columbia University. 

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