“My child just asked me,” a mother wrote, “ ‘Why do people hate the Jews?’ ”
Another parent wrote, “I can explain the cause of the war; I can retell history. I cannot explain these atrocities against the Jewish state of Israel. Help me.”
A third came this morning. “Thank you for your blog about the War in Israel. It wasn’t enough.”
I spent the day today thinking, researching, pondering, digging for answers, talking to colleagues. I even called Rabbi Steve Leder. Rabbis are teachers, after all.
Crafting just the right thing to say, creating scripts is my specialty. Just Tell Me What to Say is the name of my first book. C’mon! My work is to guide parents to help their children to understand things – new ideas, big concepts, problems of all kinds, difficult explanations – they are my thing, as I match language to child.
Not this time. I am stumped. I just can’t explain to a child why people hate the Jews. I can’t explain why a person hates another because of the color of his skin, the shape of his facial features, his nationality, his ethnicity, his religion.
Starting with our youngest toddler, we work to help manifest the capacity for empathy with which she was born. We teach kindness and we teach consideration. We ask the child How do you think that makes her feel? We say How would you feel if someone said that to you? This one is at the top of most parents’ list of important values to teach.
I tell parents that all behavior is motivated. Nothing happens for no reason, I say as we explore a child’s misbehavior.
Normally, someone is disliked (dare I say hated?) because of something she has done. The person is offended. The person feels wronged. Most off all, she feels hurt. Sometimes people dislike others because they feel threatened by them. Their position, their stature, their power is threatened. In this case of dislike, it is a result of worry what will happen. She is hated out of fear.
Then there are people who hate another because of something they have heard. I could go on and on with examples from the school yard.
In answer to the mom whose child cried Why do people hate Jews?, I don’t have the answer. But I do offer you these tips:
- It is always a good idea to find out what your child knows and thinks before you say anything. That is such a huge question. What do you think about that? You can add Have you heard anything about that before?
- It is absolutely okay to answer a question by saying that you do not know, that you have the same question if you do. When the question is fact based and can be researched or if you have an old wise one to call, do some exploring and asking together.
- Thinking about the points above regarding why people don’t like others, explore that question with your child. Ask her about her friends and what happens between them. Obviously this does not answer Anti Semitism, but it a valuable thought process for the child.
- Be very clear about the values with which you are raising your child. Take every opportunity to practice these in daily life
- Remember you children will absorb your values and beliefs. Be vocal and obvious is practicing these.
- Reiterate that we care about people because they are human beings just like us. We like people because of who they are, how they make us feel, and not because of their physical attributes, characteristics, or choice of religion.
- Your child is asking for reassurance, especially if she is Jewish (or Arab or Black or or or…) Do people hate me?, she wonders. Give it to her, explaining how people love and care about her because of exactly who she is and not because of her religion.
- In times like this, bad news travels fast and furiously, bold and loud. We begin to feel that our world is overrun with bad people, that the world is not a safe place. This is just not the case. Did you see the Eiffel Tower dressed in blue and white lights? Did you see the Brandenberg Gate awash in blue and white?
- To quote Rabbi Leder, “Most people in the world are good and do not hate anyone because of their religion, or race, or where they come from. Most people are kind and do not harm other people. A few do, but most don’t. Now, let’s look for ways we can show our kindness to people who are suffering.”
Talking to your Child about the War in Israel Betsy Brown Braun
Talking to a Child about War National Child Traumatic Stress Network
How to Talk to Children About Difficult News American Psychological Association