It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the horrible scenes in Syria, neighbouring countries and Europe right now. Sometimes children don’t have ways of understanding what they see, and can be particularly vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, stress and sadness.
But having an open, supportive discussion with your kids can help them understand, cope and even make a positive contribution.
Here are seven important things to keep in mind.
1. Ask open questions and listen
Start by asking your kids’ permission to talk about the issue. Follow their lead and if they don’t want to discuss it, don’t push the moment. Just make sure they understand that they can talk to you, their teacher and other trusted adults whenever they like.
Encourage your children to talk freely in a safe environment. Drawing, stories and other activities may help to open up a discussion.
Don’t minimise or avoid their concerns. Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them it’s natural to feel sad or scared about these things. Demonstrate that you’re listening by making ongoing eye contact.
2. Be honest: explain the truth in a child-friendly way
Children have a right to truthful information about what’s going on in the world but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.
from ABC’s Behind the News
explains the current refugee and migrant crisis using safe images and language that’s easy to understand.
If you can’t answer their questions, use it as an opportunity to explore the answers together. Websites of international relief organisations, like UNICEF, are great sources of information.
This family is walking from Greece into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They've left their home behind to try and find a better life, and just up ahead they'll come across a UNICEF support service. © UNICEF/UNI195502/Klincarov
3. Emphasise that Australia is a safe place
When we’re seeing lots of confronting images, it can sometimes feel like the crisis is all around us. Kids may not distinguish between images on screen and their own personal reality, and they may believe they’re in imminent danger.
Explain that Syria and other conflicts are very, very far away and there isn’t any fighting like that in Australia – we’re safe, and we’ll be alright.