How to talk to your kids about war

Brenton Jayatilaka

1 March 2022

It started with one of the neighbourhood boys saying to my kids, “Ukraine is in trouble”.

Before my daughter Lucy (7) heard this, bombs and cannons were toys you played with. Now it involved real people.

As we are trying to stomach the information ourselves, our younger children are trying to process things they don’t understand, and our older children are trying to grapple with horrors they can understand.

What will be helpful in approaching this topic with our children? How can we help our children understand how the God of peace is involved and working in its midst?

Below are some short and practical steps to consider when talking with your primary and high school children. Your younger children need not be burdened with information they won’t be able to grasp:

1. PRAY

    These are not easy conversations to have with our children. Ask God to work through you and in your children as you begin a discussion.

    2. LET THEM ASK QUESTIONS

      Oftentimes, we won’t know what our kids think until they ask us what they don’t know. We don’t always have to have the answer, but inviting their questions reminds them you’re a safe person to talk to.

      3. ASK THEM QUESTIONS

        Maybe you haven't had a conversation yet, but you know they know. This is a great gospel opportunity to talk to your kids about this moment they are living in. Simple questions like, “What do you think about…” or, “How does that make you feel?”, can give you great insights into what they are thinking, and help guide your prayers.

        4. LOOK AT THE MAP TOGETHER

          Many of us don’t know where Ukraine is, or its surrounding countries. It’s a good opportunity to give our kids a visual, and pray for the surrounding area. (Do you know where Moldova is? I didn’t!).

          5. SHARE INFORMATION WITH DISCERNMENT

            This particular conflict is filled with many gruesome details and images. Kids don’t need to know (or see) everything to understand the gravity of war. You shouldn’t be sharing everything or even often. Finding a good balance between age-appropriate helpful information and over sharing is worth keeping in mind.

            6. KEEP YOUR PRAYERS UPDATED

              There is a lot of news out there, and it can be hard to make sense of it all. In the age of social media, we can even see the world through the eyes of everyday people sharing their lived experience. Use what you’re hearing and seeing to plead with your family to the Lord for his peace, power, protection and provision for those who are impacted.

              7. CONSIDER GETTING INVOLVED

                Your church may be offering some ways to give financially, or partner with organisations who can help with relief on the ground. These seemingly insufficient responses should be an action for your family to consider and turn into an important discipleship moment.

                8. POINT TO GOD'S WORD FOR TRUTH

                  Jesus came to earth for peace and has overcome the world - John:16:33
                  God desires for all people to seek peace - Psalm 34:11-14
                  We can call upon God’s protection for His people - Isaiah - 41:10
                  We can trust God with our fears - 1 Peter 5:7
                  We can trust God’s plan - Romans 8:28
                  Consider how we can love and pray for our enemies - Luke 6:27-28

                  9. USE THE GOSPEL AS YOUR GUIDE

                    Jesus came with a promise to end all wars forever. Unpacking Jesus’ death can help our children see these atrocities with a gospel centred lens and find hope. Here are some prompts:

                    The cross brings justice - 1 John 2:2
                    The cross offers peace - Ephesians 2:4-5
                    The cross gives us the road to hope - Romans 8:24-25

                    10. PRAY SOME MORE

                      This may not be the first, or the last conversation you’ll have with your children about this topic. Inviting them to pray with you will continue to reinforce they have a safe space to talk and ask their questions.

                      Finally, let’s pray right now…

                      Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

                      Amen.

                      Brenton Jayatilaka

                      Brenton is one of the discipleship ministers and pastors at City on a Hill Melbourne. His hope for the church is to see our people feel uneasy when we aren't growing in our love for Jesus, our community and our city. He is married to Lauren, and is dad to Lucy and Teddy. Brenton was born and raised in Perth to Malaysian and Australian parents, spent 16 years in the USA and lives in the Box Hill area.