June 17, 2024
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OHEL Helps Israeli Children in Emotional Distress

Recent studies indicate that 84% of Israeli children suffer from emotional distress since the October 7 attacks.

Israeli children using their new books.

(Courtesy of OHEL) Israeli children suffering from emotional distress following Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attacks are receiving help from an unlikely source: Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, a Jewish organization based in Brooklyn, New York, that since 1969 has provided American children with mental health support.

In recent weeks, the organization has translated into Hebrew, printed and distributed in Israel two of its successful workbooks for children about emotional resilience, a resource that already has helped thousands of children in the New York area by generating emotional openness and discourse.

The organization’s efforts on behalf of Israeli children began after a study conducted by the Israeli Pediatric Association found that 84% of Israeli children suffer from emotional distress due to the October 7 attacks. The study concluded that 93% of children directly affected by the October 7 Hamas attacks and the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip are having emotional difficulties, with 69 % of them suffering from anxiety. Furthermore, 90% of children living in areas with many incoming-missile sirens are having emotional difficulties.

These workbooks can be used as a therapeutic tool for children, given there are too few mental health professionals available to handle the increased need. The workbooks’ authors, Tzivy Reiter, L.C.S.W., OHEL’s director of children’s and trauma services, and Dr. Naomi Baum, Ph.D. from Israel, called the books a unique way to help Israeli children without the direct involvement of mental health professionals. Teachers and parents can guide the children in reading and discussing the book.

“The workbooks enable children to talk about their feelings and create an appropriate starting point for the teachers to start a conversation with the children about the current situation,” Reiter explained. “For many of the teaching staff without training in mental health provision, and for the children themselves, it’s difficult to discuss the current, complex situation together. The workbooks make it much easier to start a conversation.”

Israeli children with their new books.

Ohel translated the workbooks into Hebrew (with different versions for ultra-Orthodox and secular audiences) and printed tens of thousands of copies at Be’eri Press, the printing company of Kibbutz Be’eri, a community that suffered the devastating loss of many of its members due to the attack. (The workbooks are also available in Spanish, Arabic and Ukrainian.)

The books distributed in Israel are Inner Space: My Resilience Workbook (for elementary school ages) and I Feel That Way and That’s Okay! (for preschool children).

Inner Space: My Resilience Workbook helps children to identify their strengths and enhances their ability to understand and regulate their emotions by developing coping tools. A companion teacher’s guide contains many supplementary activities for the classroom to put skills and concepts from the workbook into practice.

I Feel That Way and That’s Okay! helps children to understand how their bodies experience their emotions. It is an innovative resource that touches on the four cornerstones of healthy development in young children: emotion regulation and coregulation, attachment, communication and interception. The book helps children to identify and learn to manage their emotions with the help of adults in their lives, laying a strong foundation for building resilience from a very young age.

David Mandel, CEO of Ohel, says that the workbooks, while a tremendous and helpful start, should not be seen as -t replacements for care provided by mental health professionals.

Educators have lauded the workbooks, with Israeli teachers saying that the country had lacked a tool of this kind to prompt children to discuss their emotions with teachers and parents.

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