Question: My 5th grade son recently came home from a friend’s house frightened and in tears. He was literally shaking. When I finally managed to calm him down he told me that his friend had been showing him books with pictures of the Holocaust. There were pictures of the mass graves, crematoria, and people being shot and hung. Including little children. My husband and I sat with him for a long time trying to reassure him and calm him down. I also had a serious discussion with this friend’s mother. While the immediate issue has passed I wonder what advice you would give for dealing with such a situation? I also wonder what follow up if any you would recommend.
In a general sense, Gedolei Yisroel have encouraged holocaust education. There are important reasons to expose children to this topic including the importance of understanding Sinas Yisroel (anti-Semitism) as well as an appreciation of the forces that shaped our Kehillos as they stand today. Most of all, it is important to hear of those who maintained spiritual strength despite adversity. The lessons gleaned from hearing stories of those who maintained their Emuna during those horrific times as well as the many Sheairis Hapleita who picked up the pieces and rebuilt beautiful frum families are an important lesson for today’s youth.
While the above is true in a general sense, it is important to know how and when to do so. Fifth graders are not always ready for holocaust education. Although a case can be made that children this age may be ready for some preliminary holocaust education, they are not typically prepared to hear and see horrific details and images, especially children with a softer and anxious temperament. That being said, the reality is that children often do hear information from other sources. Aside from graphic holocaust images, children may be exposed to details and graphic images from more current news events (e.g., murders in Eretz Yisroel, and major terrorist attacks). Such sudden exposure causes children to feel overwhelmed, confused, and scared.
When parents are aware that a child has been exposed to potentially traumatizing stories, they should discuss with him or her. Talking with children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe. The following guidelines may be helpful for this discussion and its aftermath.
Originally appeared in Yated Neeman