Operation Protective Edge caught residents of the South at the beginning of the summer break. For 13-14 years, these children have been living their lives between protected classrooms, children’s clubs in kibbutzim and communities, to the safe room at home, caught in the middle of rocketfire and violence from different operations over the years. They must now let go of the freedom and respite they were hoping for from their summer break, and continue to spend their time in enclosed spaces.
As part of our professional work in Israel and around the world for traumatic and tragic events, it is clear to us that emotional respite work allows people to exit a situation of constant stress, and allows for a time to speak about and air out their emotions, feelings, and thoughts. These abilities depend on the creation of a safe space. The ability to take children and adults away from their usual spaces, which are constantly threatened at the moment, to a space that creates a feeling of safety and security, is critical in our ability to help children, their parents, and the entire community face recent events and gather strength for what’s to come.
It is important to mention that an ongoing stressful situation creates heightened stress state in the body, which intensifies and grows when the body’s systems are not allowed to rest after intense situations. A heightened bodily state can create post-traumatic stress symptoms, which can be prevented if a person is able to receive respite and allow his biological/bodily systems to come out of a heightened/tense state.
With children, effective coping can occur during play, social activities, or group activities, which to the observer do not seem relevant to the process of healing. Children often process events, feelings, and thoughts through play or similar activity. As part of respite activities, it is helpful to conduct guided and focused psycho-social programming.
For children, it is easier to process trauma through creative, social, or physical activities.
Group work creates added psycho-social benefits. The group has enormous power in normalizing feelings and thoughts. A peer saying “that happened to me too,” or “I feel the same as you” is infinitely more powerful than the same statement said by an instructor or a professional.
For teenagers, group work is often the only choice, as teens handle most of their coping within their peer groups.
The need to step outside the community in the South is getting stronger every day, as the exposure of Hamas tunnels have made home dangerous, and the community even more dangerous. Inhabitants are hiding out in their homes more and more.
Respite programming for children and parents usually involves an outdoor activity, with guided programming for acknowledgement, validation, and normalization, while also searching for and consolidating coping mechanisms.
One example for such work is an activity conducted at a boarding school in Afula, for children and parents from Kibbutz Kfar Aza (close to the Gaza Strip). Activity was conducted outside, and children and parents created birds that protected their eggs.