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Services providing emotional first aid to residents of the South reported a sharp rise in calls to their hot lines on Thursday, after almost six days of increased rocket attacks on an area where some 800,000 Israelis live.
"The majority of those who call our hot line are suffering from panic and anxiety, with roughly 40 percent of the calls from children or their parents, and some 60% from adults over 18," Sigal Haimov, director of the hot line (1-800-363-363) run by Natal, the Israel trauma center for victims of war and terror, told The Jerusalem Post.
"There are a lot of parents calling concerned or panicked by changes in their children's behavior over the past few days," Haimov said. "There are many cases of children refusing to leave their reinforced rooms and bomb shelters, or those who are worried because their children are not eating and drinking.
"We tell the parents that this behavior is normal and that many times when a person is stressed they lose their appetite," she said. "We try to coax the parents through the situation and, if the child is old enough, we speak to them too. In some cases, if their problem is really extreme, we will refer them to emergency services in their area for help."
Haimov said it was a good idea for parents to talk to older children about the situation, listen to their take on what was happening and help them to make sense of it. For younger children, she suggested taking them into bomb shelters or reinforced rooms when there was not an emergency so the room was not always associated with fear.
At Eran, the hot line service for emotional first aid (at 1201), director Orly Ariel said there had been a 50% increase in calls over the past five days, with most coming from Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
"In some parts of Beersheba the sirens are not working and residents have no warning that a rocket is about to hit," she noted, adding that lack of information and preparedness heightened people's stress.
In addition, Eran, which works together with the Israel Trauma Coalition, has seen a rise in activity on its Internet service (ICQ #12010), especially from children whose schools are closed because of the attacks.
"The children are at home and are constantly connected to the Internet," said Ariel, who said roughly 20% of their requests for help were from youth.
"They are especially concerned about their parents going out to work and about being at home alone," she said.
Ariel added that many of the calls came from parents concerned about leaving children or elderly parents at home alone while they went to work.
"In most cases we advise people to continue with their regular routines, to listen to the news as little as possible, and to find light entertainment to ease them through the stress," she said.
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