How to Talk to Your Children about the War in the Ukraine

Last week I had to do one of the hardest things as a parent: talk to my kids about a dark subject. In this case, war.

These conversations are hard but important. Someone is going to teach our kids about fighting and violence. Much better that it’s us, because no one is better suited to turn a conversation about war into a conversation about Jesus.

Below are some of the talking points I used with my older two boys (note: I did not talk to my younger two). I’m just a lawyer and dad fumbling through this like the rest of you, but my prayer is that these talking points help you think biblically about how to help your children process the invasion of Ukraine.

1. Peace is not the norm; it’s the exception.

An important lesson of the Bible—and history—is that peace is rare. God is not surprised when nations rage (Acts 4:25; cf. Ps. 2). We shouldn’t be either. Though made in God’s image, all persons are fallen and capable of horrific evil. Progress and time don’t change this; leaders are as corrupt, power-hungry, and violent as ever. We would do well to remember this in times of relative peace.

2. But peace is worth fighting for!

I ask my boys over and over, “When is the only time you’re allowed to fight someone?” They answer, “When you’re protecting someone else.” Yes, we’re fallen, but we were made for peace. That’s the image of God in us, and it’s worth fighting for. In fact, it’s the only reason we should fight. Because God loves and protects the innocent (Deut. 19:10), we are not passive in the face of inevitable evil—instead, we must be faithful.

3. Evil is real, but we don’t fear.

“This is bad, but you don’t need to be afraid,” I told my sons. Our response to evil should be bravery, not surprise. We can be uniquely brave because we know Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). The serious Christian need not fear death and suffering. When faced with evil, we are free to do what is right, not only what is safe. Use world crises to remind kids that the Christian posture in the face of evil is courage rather than cowardice. There’s no shortage of these opportunities.

4. It’s good and right to lament violence.

Fear is not the right response, but sadness is. Indeed, lament is necessary, for violence is always worth mourning. It’s not right that evil people are in power. It’s not good that the poor are trampled and the innocent die. And it’s not merely acceptable to say this to God—it’s essential for our hearts that we do (see Ps. 73, for example). It’s also important to let our kids see us lament. We must allow them to see us broken over evil and suffering, so they know there’s another way than callous acceptance of it. We can weep over evil and be brave at the same time. In fact, sometimes it’s the bravest thing to do.

We must allow our kids to see us broken over evil and suffering, so they know there’s another way than callous acceptance of it.

5. Take heart—God is just.

Talking about judgment is not popular. But that’s mostly because we don’t understand evil. Many times when evil rears its head, we want a strong man to come and make it all right. Well, there is one coming, and his name is Jesus. He will judge the world. (This is what makes the good news of Jesus so beautiful—we who deserve judgment are forgiven!) But remind yourself, and your kids, that God hears innocent blood crying from the ground (Gen. 4:10). He will not let it go unpunished. Good may not win in our lifetime, but good will prevail in the end. So take heart.

6. We must pray.

One of the most radical Christian acts in the face of evil is to pray. The prayers need not be complicated. Simple yelps for mercy suffice. Deliver the Ukrainians. Make them brave. Make us brave, too. Bring your judgment. Let good prevail. Lord, have mercy. Hold us fast. Give peace. Those who wear the armor of God are “praying always” (Eph. 6:18). My main point in talking to my sons was not, “Lobby for America to send more support to Ukraine.” It was, “When you lie down tonight, pray for them. Do it tomorrow, too.” Prayer is what Christians do, and the world needs it.

7. We must play.

Yes, play. This too is an act of courage in the face of evil. Remember, this conversation is for older kids—but even older kids are still kids! One of the best gifts you can give them is the biblical truth that the world, in the end, is going to be OK (John 16:33). And few things embody gospel hope more than play. Think of play as a liturgy against evil. Don’t get lost in the headlines. Don’t lose your presence at home. Don’t tune out. Don’t walk around angry or scared or perpetually on edge. Parents are the guardians, holding back the onslaught of all the world’s darkness so the living room can become a place of imagination and play. Be brave—get down on the carpet and play!

So, go ahead and be a parent. Hard times are when our kids need us most. God’s grace is with you, Mom or Dad. Pray, and then get after it.

J. Earley

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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