Resources for Mental Health

Mental Well-Being

With thanks to Dr. Michael Elterman, R. Psych and Dr. Simon Elterman, R. Psych.

The events of October 7th have had a profound effect on our community. We all have different reactions to this brutal terrorist attack on the Jewish people: distress, worry—and in some cases, the triggering of a traumatic response.

Most people will be upset and worried. This is normal. Many may feel insecure about their own personal safety now with the antisemitic acts we are hearing about.

Our purpose in providing this communication is not for you to diagnose yourself, but rather for you to know that you are not alone. There are people who care about you and there are resources in the community to help if you are having trouble coping.

What You Might Notice in Yourself, Your Children, and Others

A key question to ask yourself about your reaction to events is: “how has it affected my ability to function on a day-to-day basis?” Has it affected your ability to focus, to work or had an effect on your social relationships? Has it affected your sleep, your appetite, or have you stopped enjoying the things that used to give you pleasure?

You may see these signs of stress occurring in your family and friends. You may be able to help them by directing them to available resources in the community.

Children often react differently to distress and worry. You may see a change in their behavior: they may become more aggressive or irritable, or they may become more quiet and withdrawn. They may have more tantrums, fight with friends, have trouble sleeping– including having nightmares, wetting the bed, or showing fears of situations that they did not have before. They may show increased separation anxiety from parents and fear for their parents’ safety.

How to Help

Here are a few things you can do to help yourself if you recognize these reactions in yourself:

  • Talk to family and friends and share your thoughts and feelings about the situation and your reactions
  • Take a break from the news. It doesn’t help to watch the news continuously.
  • Continue with your routines such as meeting friends, attending classes, and exercising.
  • Practice self-care such as remembering to eat and sleep in a healthy way.

Mental Health Resources

Local Jewish community mental health resources include:

How to talk to and support your kids

With thanks to Ilana Dvorin Friedman, PhD, JUF Senior Policy Analyst, Early Childhood.

In times of distress and uncertainty, children of all ages rely on loving and trusting relationships with their grownups for support. Adults are often unaware of the extent of young children’s familiarity with upsetting and traumatic events. Young children receive information from various (and potentially unreliable) sources as they continuously construct ideas about themselves and others.

Each child brings their agency—their power to impact their world—and their unique capacities to their relationships and conversations with their grownups.

The following strategies can guide grownups as they support young children during this difficult time.

Engage in Dialogue.

Silence is a powerful tool that signals to young children that they should form their own conclusions based on the information or emotions at their disposal. Or, that their feelings do not matter. Instead, children’s grownups should proactively engage in developmentally appropriate and informed dialogue with young children.

Listen and Observe.

Come to conversations with young children ready to listen and observe what they actually want to know or already know. We often make assumptions about young children’s concerns or knowledge. But we need to ask them what they are thinking about and how they feel, using open-ended questions. And allow them to ask their questions! At a time like this, they are generally concerned about their own safety, the safety of their loved ones, and want reassurance that their grownups’ feelings and stress are not their fault.

Provide Direct, Simple Answers.

Share facts with young children without going into detail about distressing events. Dr. Sivan Zakai, Associate Professor of Education at Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion, recommends avoiding euphemisms and using and defining words like “war” in conversations.

Young children can understand complex ideas, but we cannot presume that their initial understandings match our adult understandings (their knowledge of war might be based on a thumb war or the card game!). As such, ask questions and check young children’s understanding.

Here are more tips from Dr. Sivan Zakai for fostering age-appropriate dialogue.

Reflect and Revisit.

We do not have all the answers. But we can model for children that it is okay to say: “I don’t know.” We can revisit previous conversations. If we make mistakes, we will have more opportunities to talk and reflect. Young children may only be able to handle short spurts of time for conversations. Follow the child’s lead and know that conversations may be paused. We can always check in later.

Validate Feelings and Behaviors.

With good intentions, we often say to young children “it’s okay, you are fine.” Instead, help young children identify their feelings as real and important. Grownups may notice changes in young children’s behavior, such as clinginess, avoidance, defiance, physical aggression, or tantrums. All behaviors are forms of communication that we can interpret to help provide the most appropriate and fitting support.

Strategies for supporting elementary school-age children

In times of distress and uncertainty, all children rely on loving and trustworthy relationships with their grownups for support.

Elementary school-aged children are active agents in their learning and development. They are navigating more complex understandings of themselves and others and likely spend more time with peers and other adults than their main caregivers. Knowing how to read unlocks greater access to misinformation and remote exposure trauma (witnessing trauma from afar), beyond the already damaging interaction with horrifying images, videos, and sounds.

The following strategies can guide grownups as they support children during this difficult time.

Elevate Agency, Set Boundaries.

We want to respect children’s agency and independence, while also setting boundaries, such as limiting screen time or certain streaming services. Some children crave information, wanting to know more, and other children prefer knowing less. Our job is to be there for each child in the specific ways they need us, which may also change and evolve over time. We want children to come to us, not Google! While we cannot fully control the sources of information confronting our children, we can frame the narrative and answer questions through ongoing dialogue.

Engage in Dialogue.

Be proactive and set time aside to talk. Begin with open-ended questions that allow the grownup to better assess the child’s knowledge and understanding, as well as what the child wants to know. Even when adults set aside time for meaningful conversations, the child may not be interested. They may say, “I don’t want to talk right now” or “stop, I’m fine.” And that’s okay, too.

Sometimes our job is to check in at a later time and anticipate that there will be surprising moments when the child brings it up!

We can also pay attention to children’s behaviors. For example, lack of sleep or appetite, disengagement from peers, increase in aggression, and difficulties focusing on a task might signal that the current events are affecting a child’s wellbeing.

Ask children how they are feeling and propose potential solutions as a team.

This is a great opportunity to reach out to the child’s educators or coaches to strategize together.

School Context.

Children attending public schools or other types of private schools may feel alone or targeted, worried about their physical and psychological safety with the rise of antisemitism.

Children in Jewish day schools may experience camaraderie and feel a collective experience with others that may uplift them. Yet, they may face a constant reminder of pain, grief, and fear inhibiting them from completing daily tasks and activities.

The child’s school context and experiences may inform opportunities for dialogue and the need for ongoing check-ins. We must give our children breaks, allowing them to be with their friends and play!

Lean into Children’s Empathy and Creativity.

Children are creative, curious, and empathetic. As Dr. Sivan Zakai expresses, “we need to let children be hopeful.” Provide them with space and resources to turn their ideas into action, such as writing letters to Israeli children or soldiers or designing a fundraiser. They have inspiring ideas on how to make a difference. Just ask them!

Strategies for supporting yourself

As children’s grownups, we often prioritize the wellbeing of our children, even to the detriment of our own health. But we cannot provide what kids need without also taking care of ourselves.

Just like there is no one-size-fits-all script for engaging with children during this distressing time, there is no one right way for adults to respond, not only to trauma but to the stress and expectations of also holding up others. As we engage in responsive approaches with our children, we must also be responsive to our own ongoing and evolving needs.

Megan Lerner, Director of the Center for Trauma and Resilience for JCFS Chicago, explains that “people need the opportunity to figure out what they need—and that need can change over time.”

We can rely on helpful tips from experts about talking with children about war, trauma, and challenging events. At the same time, what is happening right now is unprecedented. We are all just doing our best. Remember, adults must give themselves grace as they manage their emotions and reactions while also supporting others.

Recognize Your Feelings.

Children of all ages pick up on our emotional states, reactions, conversations, and actions. We must take the time to check in with ourselves. “How am I feeling this morning?” “Am I ready to engage in a thoughtful dialogue with my child in my current mood?” Just as we validate young children’s feelings, we must take the time to validate our own and better understand how we are processing current events.

It is okay to feel sad, afraid, helpless, and angry. These feelings can manifest themselves in physical symptoms, such as headaches or fatigue, and in our behaviors. Adults need to prioritize their own self-care, such as sleeping, going for a nature walk/spending time outdoors, engaging in physical activities and exercise, turning off devices, and spending time with loved ones.

Lean Into Community and Space Alone.

Trauma can be experienced at different levels—both individual and communal. Lean into family, friends, and community members. Participate in communal gatherings or calls to action. Share strategies, insights, and reflections with others.

No one should feel alone. At the same time, it is okay to want or need to be alone.

Over time, both being with others and being alone may be important for both mental and physical health. Everyone — children and adults alike—should feel safe and supported in seeking help from a behavioral health professional if needed.

JCFS Chicago is offering a warm line for anyone, anywhere looking for support. Call 855.275. 5237 to talk with someone, including Hebrew-speaking emotional support professionals, between 9am and 5pm Monday through Thursday, 9am-4pm Fridays.

Create Shared Experiences and Strategies at Home.

Establishing healthy routines is critical at times that feel uncertain or out of our control. Set boundaries that limit exposure to the news and adult conversations and create safe spaces for joining children in play. As children continue to rely on their grownups for support, we have an opportunity to share our own feelings and coping strategies. This joint experience may lead to the creation of new strategies, routines and family traditions (e.g., family breathing exercises, cookie or challah bakes, or weekly game nights).

Talking to teens about what’s happening in Israel

Create space for reflection.

After a traumatic event, it’s important to first focus on emotional processing. Give teens space to reflect on the complicated emotions they may be feeling.

For some teens, this is really personal in an individual way; they may have connection to the land of Israel or to people in Israel. For others, what happened is important because of their connection to the Jewish community. Other teens may not feel a personal connection or want to discuss what’s going on.

Regardless of people’s starting point, it is helpful to create a joint reason for connection so everyone has space for their own Israel story. Be prepared to validate whatever feelings your teens are expressing. This is only one of many things that teens may be navigating in their daily life.

Consider daily routines. Some teens may find their routine helpful for grounding them in their everyday life. Other teens may need a break from routine so they have space to process what’s happening in Israel.

Remember the Importance of Israel Education.

Teens are getting information from a variety of different sources, including teachers, friends, social media and legitimate news sources. They may be worried about Israeli friends or family, confused about how or why this is happening or unsure how they are supposed to react.

Make sure you feel properly prepared to engage in conversation and meet teens where they are. If you want help, contact us at incidents@juf.org or gov@juf.org.

Zoom in.

Invite teens to set the tone for the conversation by asking: What do you know? What do you want to know? What do you think you should know? Share facts in a clear and age-appropriate way. There are a lot of great resources for easily digestible fact sheets including this one.

Zoom out.

Offer broader context by addressing questions like: what is Hamas? Where Is Gaza? Who are the Israeli communities under attack? What other challenges might arise as a result of what’s happening in Gaza?

Provide moral clarity.

Terrorism is always wrong. Attacking, torturing and murdering civilians is always wrong. Kidnapping children and the elderly is always wrong. It doesn’t matter how anyone feels about Israel’s governmental policies. We need to be able to condemn immoral acts without disclaimers.

Provide Social and Emotional Support

Teens can handle more than we give them credit for.

They are craving authenticity and want to know how you’re feeling. Make sure you’re navigating your own emotions. It’s important to both practice and model self-care.

To the extent that you feel comfortable, it’s ok to be vulnerable and share that you also have questions, worries and other feelings that you’re working through. It’s also ok to share that you don’t have all the answers and that there are some things you may want to learn about together. Make sure you find the balance of being open without putting your emotional baggage onto your teens.

Be careful what you say and don’t say things that you don’t know will be true, like ‘everything is going to be ok’. Good phrases include: “We’ll get through this together.” “The Jewish people are strong.”

Encourage Responsible Social Media Consumption

Social media is a significant part of teens’ lives and it is unrealistic that they will abstain from using it. Encourage responsible consumption and social media breaks.

Consider the sources of information you’re taking in. Israeli schools are urging students to delete apps like Instagram and TikTok out of concern that Hamas may be using social media to broadcast disturbing videos and content as part of their psychological warfare campaign. Temporarily deleting apps is encouraged as is disengaging from upsetting or disturbing content.

Take Action

Everyone wants to feel like they are doing something. Encourage your teen to find connections with others in the community. This may include people in Israel, their Jewish friends or others in your local community.

It’s ok to not know what to say or to feel awkward about reaching out to others. Remind teens the importance of that connection point, even if you don’t know the right words to say.

Encourage meaningful actions like hosting a fundraising, finding volunteer activities, showing up for Israel and the Jewish community (as feels comfortable and safe).

Lean into moments of hope add positive content into the world. Don’t just focus on the negative. Share positive stories of Jewish pride, allyship. Share stories that create opportunities for connection. Relationships are critical.

Include Jewish values or ideas to things you’re doing so that you aren’t just connecting to Jewish life and Israel over trauma and the war but also through positive association.