Coping with terrorism

Tough times are tough – and these are tough times.

Knife at scene of Ariel terror attack, October 25, 2015 (photo credit: DAVID IVGY)
Knife at scene of Ariel terror attack, October 25, 2015
(photo credit: DAVID IVGY)
The bereaved children and teens with whom I work on a daily basis at The Koby Mandell Foundation have taught me much about coping with fear and trauma, and the universal human need to know that we are in a safe place.
During these difficult times when all of us – adults and children – are concerned for our security, we strive – and sometimes have to struggle – to create a safe internal and environmental space.
Being informed gives us – and our children – a much needed sense of control. Given our individual differences, some of us need to know everything about everything, while others only want to know enough to stay safe. What we share and how we help one another must be tailored to each individual’s ways of coping. (Children may ask the same questions over and over, requiring a great deal of patience on our part.
They are comforted by repetition – remember how many times you read Goodnight Moon?) We should all avoid overexposure to the news – particularly scenes of violence. The body responds to each viewing by tensing up as if it were its first exposure. This is a primitive response, originally intended to help us avoid danger. It’s a great asset in the jungle – but in our living rooms, all it does is reinforce anxiety.
We have to know when to push the “off” button on televisions, computers and smart phones.
The uncertainty created by random attacks may require us to reevaluate our priorities. We may be setting new restrictions on our movements, and on those of our children – not meeting friends in public areas, not permitting young children to go to the playground on their own. Some changes are for our own peace of mind; our kids might not like it, but our role as parents is to find the healthy balance of our needs and theirs. We can be lovingly firm about limitations and expectations, and reassure our children – and ourselves – that the new restrictions are temporary.
We must respect our anxiety, but try not to let it rule over us.
We are all concerned for ourselves and for those we love, and we can acknowledge to ourselves and to our children that it makes sense to be anxious. At the same time, we can reinforce our coping strategies, and look for new ones.
We can tell our children what we are doing to help ourselves – and help them think of ways that they can help themselves. We should review family rules: call home to report any incidents – and whenever you need a reassuring voice, have emergency numbers handy, feel free to ask for help, and so on.
Empowerment is a wonderful antidote to anxiety, and helping others provides a sense of empowerment and self-worth. Teen participants in Camp Koby often describe a sense of accomplishment and pride when helping others. We can send letters and drawings to our security forces, organize prayer and learning groups, help families whose lives are disrupted because of the security situation, etc.
Maintaining as much of our routine as possible gives us a sense of security and familiarity. We should engage in physical activity, get a good night’s sleep, and maintain a healthy diet (including appropriate doses of Bamba as necessary!).
Give your baby/toddler a body-cream massage, play action expressive games with young children, and board games with friends and family. Listen to music, do relaxation exercises, organize family photographs, learn with others, laugh together. We are allowed to – indeed, we are required to – have fun! All these, and more, help us maintain a healthy balance of mind and body.
We should be alert to changes in our own and our loved ones’ behavior (i.e. regressive behaviors among young children, isolation among teens). Some changes are appropriate and adaptive – young children might cling to a parent or teacher, teens and adults may become (more) dependent on others. Such behaviors should resolve themselves as the situation improves. If these behaviors continue a while after our lives should have returned to normal, we should speak with the child’s teacher and counselor, or seek professional help for ourselves.
(For more information about the impact of trauma on adults and children, see
Tough times are tough – and these are tough times. Let’s use this time to strengthen and reinforce loving support and strength within ourselves and our friends and families.
These qualities will serve us well during this critical time, and in good times as well.
The author is coordinator of counseling, support services and therapeutic arts for the Koby Mandell Foundation for bereaved families, and group facilitator of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma’s Resilience Unit. She can be reached at jackie@