How To Talk To Your Kids About The Israel-Hamas Conflict

It's not an easy conversation to have – but experts recommend you do have it.
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It’s impossible not to be utterly horrified by the escalating situation between Israel and the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, which has unfolded over the past week.

The war has already claimed at least 2,600 lives on both sides – and there are fears the death toll will rise further still.

The ordeal began on Saturday when Hamas militants stormed a music festival, killing hundreds of festival-goers, before murdering Israelis in their homes and on the streets and taking some hostage.

Israel retaliated by cutting off supplies of food, fuel, electricity and water to Gaza, which is under Hamas rule.

The Israeli military has since bombed Gaza, killing 1,100 Palestinians, according to Al Jazeera, and has said supplies won’t be restored until Hamas returns Israeli hostages.

The atrocities of war are hard to comprehend, even for adults – so explaining the situation to children can be challenging to say the least.

You want to protect them from the worst of the horrors, but you can’t wrap them in cotton wool and pretend like nothing is happening – especially when they’ll undoubtedly hear about the escalating conflict at school or on social media.

So, how can you talk to your kids about it?

It can be hard to know where to even begin with such a topic – especially one which has such a long and complicated history, and which has seen thousands of innocent people, including children, killed.

Waheeda Saif, a program coordinator at Riverside Trauma Center in Massachusetts, told NPR parents shouldn’t wait for kids to come to them and ask about the conflict.

Instead, they suggested asking open-ended questions to children such as: Have you heard what’s been going on in the world? Or, have you heard about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine? That way you can see how much they know and go from there.

Clinical psychologist Dr Becky Kennedy, a mother-of-three and founder of Good Inside, said there’s no right age to address this with children and urged parents to tell the truth using real words like “invasion, rockets and death”, which she suggested “builds trust”.

On the latter, she added: “Two things are true: we don’t want to flood kids with fear and when kids ask questions, they are ready for truthful answers.”

An aerial view of destroyed buildings following the Israeli airstrikes in Al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza on October 12, 2023.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
An aerial view of destroyed buildings following the Israeli airstrikes in Al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza on October 12, 2023.

In terms of talking them through what is going on, she recommended speaking slowly and making eye contact throughout the discussion to help children feel safe and secure.

She also shared an example script that parents might like to use to start such a conversation (which can be found here). Be mindful to keep the dialogue open and be prepared to have a few conversations about this over time.

If they ask questions you don’t necessarily know the answers to, it’s okay to say: “I don’t have all the answers, but when I know more, I’ll share with you.”

If you’re in need of more context, this segment at the start of The Rest Is Politics podcast about the history of the conflict has been praised by some parents as easy to digest for older kids. HuffPost UK has also published a helpful explainer on when the difficulties between the Israelis and Palestinians began.

“There are no ‘right’ words for events in the world that are so wrong,” Dr Kennedy said in an Instagram post. “There are no perfect scripts to explain death or rockets or hostages or air raids or alarms ringing in the middle of the night. And while our words may never feel like enough, our presence will always matter.”

Hug your child, squeeze them, let them know you are there for them and that their emotions are valid. “Let your kids know that yes it’s okay to feel scared and worried and yes you will always be there to talk with them about the hardest things in life,” Dr Kennedy suggested.

“And let yourself know that of course you’re struggling to show up as a sturdy leader for your kid while you’re overwhelmed with your own feelings. This makes sense. Amidst horror, struggling is the best any of us can do.”