The story of the Exodus from Egypt is complex, interesting and can raise many questions in the minds of young children. It tackles the conflict between Good vs. Evil, responsibility to our community, and that our actions have consequences. Children rely on a sense of what is “fair” and they connect strongly to the plight of the slaves. The story can be scary if not told in an age-appropriate way, so we made certain to exclude certain details that might frighten the kids. For example, they seemed comfortable with the first nine plagues, but we redacted the “slaying of the first born.” In an effort to dispel the anxiety that might arise from Yocheved placing her baby in a basket in the river, we explained that his big sister Miriam watched over him, and they were further delighted to learn that Yocheved was actually sent to the palace to be Moses’ nanny.
As frightening as the biblical story can be, our children are grappling with the more frightening reality of what has been happening in our schools, synagogues and JCCs over the past few months. School-age children may be more aware of the situation then preschoolers, but even toddlers can pick up pieces of adult conversation and sense anxiety in the adults around them. Just as we are careful how we tell the Passover story, we have to be equally careful and honest in how we deal with the real life threat we currently live under. Young children need brief simple information that should be balanced with reassurance. This includes informing children that their school and home are safe and that adults are available to protect them. Young children often gauge how threatening or serious an event is by adult reactions. This is why, for example, parents are encouraged not to get overly emotional when saying goodbye on the first day of school. Young children respond well to basic assurance by adults and simple examples of school safety, like reminding them the exterior doors are locked. Above all us, it’s important to stay calm but not be too complacent. Listen to how your child is feeling and gently remind them the importance of listening and following instructions. There’s no such thing as being too safe!
There are several strategies that one can employ to reassure our kids in this time of uncertainty:
LET YOUR CHILD TALK ABOUT HOW THEY ARE FEELING They may have heard incorrect or exaggerated information about what’s been happening in schools. They may also be hearing language that is new to their ears, like ‘terrorism’ and ‘hoax’. Gently answer their questions without imposing your own fears.
NOW IS THE TIME TO REITERATE THE IMPORTANCE OF RULES Remind your child that school rules are in place for a reason. Reinforce why you need to listen to your teacher and follow their instructions carefully.
GIVE YOUR CHILD REASSURANCE Reassure your child that all schools have action plans in place should something go wrong. Remind them a teacher will always make the safety of his/ her students, paramount.
TURN OFF THE NEWS While it may be tempting to keep the news on TV so you can stay up to date, be aware that the news is not in ‘child-speak’. It is not interactive and it doesn’t allow for children to have a conversation or ask questions. You are better off having a chat with your child, so that you have the power to expose as much or as little as you see fit, depending on how they are handling the situation.
Want to take further action against this form of hate that is targeting our children? One step we all can take is to educate our kids on tolerance and acceptance, speak out against anti-semitism and in hate in their various forms, and be helpful to local communities when horrible events occur. It’s time for us to stand up to the acts of hate that are occurring and say enough. The safety of the Jewish Communities across the United States and the rest of the world are worth fighting for.
Save The Date: 4/26: Spring Fling 4/28: Special Person Lunch
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