Sophie Shugg, 31, has been working with displaced families for the past eight years – covering emergencies in Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and Thailand.
The children she’s helped have had their lives “turned upside down”, many have been forced to leave their homes and somehow managed to survive and thrive in contexts where there’s so much uncertainty for their future.
Sophie tells a story of one five-year-old boy who was fleeing extreme violence in Pakistan, his family had to abandon their farm, and during the upheaval his parents were able to talk to their son about his concerns.
“Their child’s biggest worry was how he was going to fulfil his duties back on the farm and whether he will get in trouble because he’s wasn’t able to feed the animals and do those regular things that he did,” said Ms Shugg.
His parents were surprised that their son was stressed about his chores when people around them were dying.
“[The boy’s mother] said she was amazed and that it was really important to let him lead the conversation rather than her make assumptions about what he was worried about.”
Sophie Shugg in the field. Image supplied.
The senior child right’s and protection adviser is now using this experience to help Australian children come to terms with troubling world events.
"They feel like it’s around the corner and really close and it is a genuine concern for them," said Ms Shugg.
"I don’t think there is that separation and they don't always understand that if it’s happening on the other side of the world, it’s not going to impact [them]. Children will probably be quite genuinely worried if they’re seeing something on the TV and it looks like what their home looks like, like what we’ve seen with these recent attacks in Paris, then they have a legitimate concern."
Along with Plan International, Mrs Shugg has penned a quick easy guide to help parents talk to their kids about the horrifying images they might be witnessing in the media.
"Even if you were to throw away your TV, there’s every chance your children will see these moments." Image via iStock.
"I’m not telling parents that they have to talk about it, but rather saying the likelihood is high, that [children are] worrying about it and if they do want to have those conversations, here are some tips."
Should you shield your kid from news?
"Ultimately, it’s your choice as a parent. But consider this: even if you were to throw away your TV, there’s every chance your children will see these moments on other TVs, be it at a shopping centre, at their friends’ places or in a relative’s home. And even if they don’t, they can still hear about war from their friends, or see photos on the front pages as they walk past the newsagent’s."
Create an environment in which children can speak freely.
"Children always need to feel safe, and never more so than when they are talking about events and issues that concern them. So find a time and a place where they feel comfortable and secure, in order to talk to them about their fears and concern."
Let children guide the conversation.
"What worries your kids about scenes of war and conflict may surprise you. So let them take the lead in your conversation. This will ensure their concerns are addressed, and not just your assumptions."
Look for non-verbal signs.
"Children will not always raise their concerns with you directly. So look for the signs that they are feeling distressed. Do they turn away from the television when they fear the news is about to come on? Do they play act scenes of fighting or conflict with their friends? Do they draw pictures that reflect what they are seeing on TV? If so, you may need to bring up the subject and ease their worries."
Be as open as you can.
"No one expects you to explain the genesis of complex conflicts like a professor of politics, least of all your children. Nor do you need to go into excruciating detail on injury or death. But children are often smarter than you think, and they will gain a sense of comfort if you talk openly. And it’s OK to admit you don’t understand the reasons for war."
Reassure your children.
"Make sure your children understand that there is no threat of war or conflict in Australia. But don’t dismiss their concerns for others – your children are learning empathy and compassion, and that’s to be encouraged."
Do something about it.
"Children will often want to do more than just talk about conflict, they may want to take action. Let your children know that they can support communities, whether that’s through raising awareness or fundraising to help organisations responding to conflict."
Children across the world are caught up in conflict. You can help by making a donation to Plan International Australia’s Children in Crisis Fund.
Watch: The world’s most peaceful countries.