I was moved to see more than 450 people come together on Wednesday night for a session about the War in Ukraine and how we can help make a difference. A parent asked, “How should we talk about war with our children?” Having raised children in Israel during several wars, sadly I have had to do this with my own children before. Here are some thoughts for caregivers.
First you can’t prevent your kids from hearing about war. It’s on the TV and on the front pages of the newspaper. They will overhear conversations of others, even if in hushed voices. Let them know they are safe. Reassure them it’s far away and that nothing bad will happen to them. They want to know you will keep them safe.
Second, gently find out what they are thinking about. Talking about war with children is lot like talking about God and sex. It can be awkward at first, but children really appreciate you respect and you are available for hard conversations. My advice is to focus on answering their actual questions, and not get stuck on stuff that is not relevant to what they are really asking about.
It is important that children feel they are not powerless. There are many things we can do. Making a picture of flowers or sunshine can give hope to a Ukrainian child in a bomb shelter in Kyiv, or a refugee center in Poland. Kids need to know they have friends (even in other places) who care about them. Caregivers can play a game with children. You could go through drawers to find clothes that don’t fit and send them to children that had to run away from their homes and no longer have enough clothes. Children can collect coins to send money to the Reform Judaism Ukraine Crisis Fund to help families in Europe.
War comes from people acting out their violent thoughts. Parents can speak with their children about learning not to hit their siblings when they are angry. We need to find peaceful ways to share toys and cookies. Yes, we do need to stand up to bullies on the playground and speak out if another is unfair, but hitting and violence rarely helps.
Perhaps even more powerful than our words to our children, is the example of our actions. Modeling civility, kindness, and patience leads to a better world.
Tonight, our Temple will host a recent refugee from Kabul Afghanistan who will share the story of his escape from war and coming to America. His family is bringing special home-made Afghani Baklava. Please come tonight to welcome him and to model the Jewish value of Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming the stranger,) in the spirit of Abraham and Sara who welcomed strangers into their tent. I hope to see you tonight.
Rabbi David Wilfond