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Five ways to help children respond to a tragic photograph

Kate NewmanI look at the photograph of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi who has died on the shores of Turkey. I am looking at sacred space. This little boy is embodying quite a task, to be represented in this way. I pray that each time Aylan’s body is witnessed, his courage is acknowledged. Bless him.

I pray for children who have now seen the sacrifice of one of their own through the accessible window of the internet. Children who look at this picture need to be able to talk about what they have viewed. How can we start the discussion?


1. Reassure children by showing them the peace around them.

We can honour Aylan by transforming the tragedy of his image into a force for good. He was not horrible or terrifying, he was a little boy. Most reading this blog live in peace. Therefore, we have a responsibility. We know peace. This little boy died, now we can fully understand the desperate need that others have to live in peace. We have the power to share that peace.

2. Consider telling the whole story in a way that it can be understood.

Consider the age of the children that you are talking with. Or, regardless of age, what have the children you are speaking with actually seen or experienced in their lives? Since a photograph is only a moment of reality it cannot represent the full story of that little boy’s life – or what happened after he died. Children may be ready to hear this story or to have you translate it for them. They may be ready to hear the story of conflict in Syria and the ignorance, the misunderstanding of the value of peace, by those who could have helped the Syrian refugees. A very very young child who has seen the picture may understand that the child is sleeping, his soul is sleeping and waking up in a beautiful place. The more age or experience – related truth we can provide to an affected child, the better informed they will be when it comes to choosing their response.

3. Acknowledge feelings.

Feelings will change and transform as we integrate this image of a young child’s death into our own lives; the places where we are now, the situations that we find ourselves in, the people that we share our lives with. We can talk about our feelings with one another. Each of us will affect the way that the other understands what they have seen and the feelings this image creates. We influence one another as this brave little boy has influenced us. We understand as a community.

4. Respond together.

Some responses will arise naturally; a gentle word, a hug, a deep breath, a long walk, a drawing, a dance, a prayer for things to get better in the world. You and the children around you will know the right response because it will come with a sense of peace. There may be more than one response. You may recognize your responses only after they have occurred. Acknowledge them.

5. Give thanks for life.

Let’s give thanks for the life of all children who have experienced war and their courage. Let’s give thanks for all of the children who will find a way to deal with the tragedy of war and the truth of death. The vulnerability of children calls communities to care for them. The little boy in the photograph called the world community to care for him. So let’s do it now, in the best way we still can. Our deepest vulnerabilities can become our strengths. Thank God for that.

Kate Newman

About Kate Newman

Kate Newman has been teaching arts and faith to children in the secular school system and in churches for 20 years. Kate has completed a Masters of Theological Studies and has a Masters in Education. She is the principal developer for the Compendium of the Church Mice. She currently works at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria the same church where she was baptized in Children's Ministry. She is also a mother. She enjoys walks in the woods with her and a good nap. Whew.
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