“What is happening today is the writing of a history written by every Syrian citizen.”
“We are currently facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.”
“Thirty per cent of those asylum-seekers who claim to be Syrian are not Syrians.”
“The trainer said if I didn’t do it, he’d shoot me.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
This video 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.
- 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.
- Show them all the good people trying to help
It’s important for children to know about the acts of bravery, generosity and kindness from ordinary people trying to help in Syria, Europe and right here in Australia. Share stories of aid workers, community leaders and humanitarians who keep children safe and help them continue their education.
Show them the incredibly beautiful scenes of people welcoming refugees and migrants as they arrive in Germany. And tell them how thousands of Australians want to help too.
- Help them take positive action
It’s hugely empowering for children to contribute to the relief effort. Get together and brainstorm ideas about how you, your kids and their friends can raise money to help refugee families. Suggest a gold coin donation day at school, a cake stall, concert, fun run or any other creative idea that springs to mind. Check out UNICEF Australia’s fundraising guide for help.
6.Take care of yourself
You’ll be better able to help your kids if you’re coping well too. Children will pick up on your own response to the news, so it helps them to know you’re calm and in control.
If you’re feeling anxious or upset, take time for yourself and reach out to other family, friends and trusted people in your community. If you want some extra help, get in touch with beyondblue. Make time, however small, to do things you enjoy and join your kids in doing something constructive to help the situation.
- Close the conversation with care
It’s important to know we’re not leaving children in a state of distress. As your conversation wraps up, try to gauge their level of anxiety by watching their body language, considering whether they’re using their usual tone of voice and watching their breathing.
Remind your kids they can have other difficult conversations with you at any time. You care, you’re listening and you’re available whenever they’re feeling worried.
This article was written by UNICEF. If you’d like to make a donation, please do so by visiting unicef.org.au/donate/donate-once.