Israeli children living near Gaza are accustomed to living in uncertainty. How do you prepare them for the big transition to first grade?

Children who previously lived or still live under conditions of incessant security threats are particularly susceptible to worries and difficulties in transitioning from summer vacation to the school routine.

Among the children living near Gaza, feelings of excitement and stress may be accompanied and intensified by worries about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones, and feelings of uncertainty about the future. These concerns are shared by parents who deal with complex situations of driving their kids to as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught by an rocket alert siren for while in the car, or those who are constantly vigilant by the phone even when they are at work in case there is a siren and they must return home.

To help parents, we offer recommendations to support children returning to school. It is important to develop a dialogue about feelings in preparation for the new school year, and to be attentive to the emotions that surface among the children and ask how they feel and if there is anything they are looking forward to or fear.

Validate existing feelings and concerns

Adults often experience the world differently from their children. It is important not to dismiss concerns and tell them there is nothing to fear. These reassurances, despite their good intentions, may prevent children from opening up and continuing to share. Instead, express interest and try to understand reality from their perspective. You can also share that you too sometimes worry about the security situation or new beginnings. Finally, after listening, you can offer solutions or think together about helpful ideas.

Create a sense of security by providing information about what they can expect starting school

Knowing what to expect starting school can help students, especially those who are in a state of emotional stress and anxiety. Make sure your child knows who their teacher will be, the names of the children in their class, the school schedule, and who can be contacted when needed.

Draw attention to positive aspects of returning to school

Focusing on positive experiences from the past, or positive expectations for the future, can help alleviate the tension instigated by returning to school. Remind the children of the meaningful and positive experiences they had during the past year, the opportunity to play with the friends during recess, and more. Encourage the children to find positive things about going back to school.

The educational staff as source of support and security for the children

It is important to convey to children a sense of security by having the educational staff know how to assist them in cases of distress or a deteriorating security situation. The sense of security that you convey as parents will help children to trust the educational staff and become calmer during school.

Listening to our needs and difficulties as parents

We often focus on our children and how we can help them, but it is important to remember and be attentive to our own needs and difficulties as well. There are parents who are very concerned about their children’s anxieties and coping with them and so do not attend to their own anxieties. In order to have the strength to continue to support the children, parents must find their own coping resources.

Attentive ear and, if necessary, professional support that will help with daily coping

If concerns or behaviors affecting students’ daily lives arise, contact the community for assistance. If there is a fundamental refusal to go to school, difficulty going out and playing with friends, recurring memories of past traumatic events, incontinence, recurring nightmares or worries, turn to community support and assistance. You can contact school counselors, educational psychologists, resilience centers or call NATAL’s hotline.

Naama Ehrlich, educational psychologist, Community Outreach Unit at NATAL.

For any questions or consultation, please call NATAL’s Helpline – 1800-363-363