Wondering how to talk to kids about war with all that’s happening in Ukraine? Use these age by age talking points to offer a hope-filled perspective.
We live in a Civil War town. It’s impossible to drive very far at all without passing statues, signs marking famous battle sites, and other reminders of the war that ripped our country in two.
My 5-year-old has started to notice. “Mom, what’s that?” she asked the other day, as we drove around our town square. She was pointing at the very tall monument in the middle of the roundabout, a statue of a soldier, surrounded by bronzed cannons.
When my daughter asks, “what’s that?,” I pause. How do I begin to approach a topic as horrible as war, in the context of a car ride?
Current events have started to spark the same sorts of conversations, as we watch the horror unfolding in Ukraine. I’m uncertain how to process it all, let alone answer the questions my daughter has after hearing bits and pieces here and there.
The balance between trying to keep current events age-appropriate, but also not keeping my kids in a bubble, is a tightrope I feel utterly unequipped to walk. And yet, it is a core value in my family that our kids know the world, history, and understand that things are not right but that one day, because of Jesus, they will be. Today that burden feels heavier than ever, with turmoil continuing in Ukraine.
But it doesn’t equip our kids if we bury our heads in the sand, pretending that everything is okay. When we live a life of abiding faith, we find wisdom and words through our connection to Jesus so we can share (in age-appropriate ways) the heaviness of our broken world, all while pointing to God’s sovereignty and promises.
Here are a few ways to approach talking to your kids about war, rooted in Scripture and God’s faithful promises that one day, death and sadness will be no more (Revelation 21:4).
How to Talk To Kids About War
1. Don’t pretend war doesn’t exist.
Even from the youngest ages, kids understand that people don’t get along. If your kids ask about something they hear on the news or overhear you discussing with other adults or even something they read about in a history book or the Bible (which is full of wars!), engage them thoughtfully. Don’t dismiss it as “something they’ll hear about one day,” but rather use an age-appropriate definition of war. Remind kids of all ages that they are safe and can always ask you if they have questions or feel scared.
For preschoolers: Wars happen when groups of people or countries have different ideas about something, and they fight. (If this is true for you, say . . .) There are people fighting right now but it is happening very far from here and we are safe.
For early elementary schoolers: Wars are long fights between countries or groups of people. There were wars in the Bible and wars in history, and wars still happen today, usually when two groups of people can’t agree on something.
For upper elementary schoolers: Sometimes we read about wars in the Bible and you’ve probably heard about wars that have happened in history at school. There are still wars today, between countries and groups of people who are fighting for power or who have different ideas about how their countries should be run.
For older kids, find age-appropriate books about wars in history. Discuss different sides, and use those conversations as a launching point to talk about right and wrong, how to handle opposing ideas, and what good leadership looks like.
2. Reassure kids of God’s character.
Psalm 33:5 NIV
The Lord loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of his unfailing love.
If your kids ask, “but why does God allow war?” . . . you may want to take a deep breath. Then go to Scripture. Tell your kids that throughout the Bible, God shows that He cares for His people, for the poor and oppressed, and that He equipped His people to win battles against countries and kings who tried to hurt them. Because of sin, fighting and war are a part of history and are still present today. But God is always good.
For preschoolers or early elementary schoolers: (Your youngest ones will probably not make this connection but if it comes up . . .) God is sad when people fight too. People don’t always do what God wants them to do and we can pray that they will find ways to get along.
For upper elementary schoolers: We live in a broken, upside-down world. Because of sin, people do really horrible, hurtful things. God is very sad when people hurt each other. He wants us to love one another as much as He loves us (John 13:34). When we see people fighting or hurting each other, we can stop and ask God how we might help and pray for all those involved.
For older kids, ask and invite deeper questions. This is a really big topic that grownups still grapple with. It’s not a question that is answered easily. Most importantly, remind your older kids that until God’s Kingdom is restored, there will be pain and suffering on earth. But in the midst of it all, as we abide in Jesus, we receive a peace that passes understanding and are reminded that God is good and loving.
Read the story of Gideon together, either in Judges 6–7 or in a storybook Bible. In this story, God uses Gideon and 300 men to defeat a much larger Midianite army. Ask questions like:
Why were the Israelites and the Midianites fighting?
What did God ask Gideon to do?
How did God protect His people?
What does this story show you about how much God loves His people and loves justice?
While we don’t want to establish an “us versus them” mentality in our children, it’s important at this early stage of their spiritual formation to build a foundation of trust in God on the truth of His goodness (despite the brokenness we see in the world every day) and His unfailing, never-ending, protective love.
Psalm 46:1 NIV
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
3. Teach them how to respond with grace and love.
Romans 14:19 NIV
Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Whenever wars or other political conflicts arise, opinions rise too! Your kids may hear (or repeat) polarizing or critical statements without understanding the deeper geopolitical context. The Bible encourages all believers to pursue peace with each other, and when your kids (or people around them) respond in accusatory anger to someone who holds a different viewpoint politically, use it as a coaching moment.
If your child repeats something false:
Ask your child where they heard the information they repeated, and then look it up on a reputable website together. Find the facts, and discuss any questions your child might have. Then work together to come up with a thoughtful response if someone later tells your child something different.
If your child overhears something spoken in anger:
Pull your child aside, away from the television or the person who said something polarizing. (Or address it later, in the car or at the dinner table.) Ask your child how they felt like the comments would make someone who believed something different feel. Discuss together the power words have.
4. Remind them that one day, there will be no more war.
Isaiah 2:4 NIV
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Throughout Scripture, God promises that one day, there will be no more wars. Share with your kids the hope in this promise, and that we live in a world that has been broken by sin. But because of Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace, one day, we will experience perfect peace.
5. Pray, pray, pray!
War and politics may be subjects we want to avoid but they are incredible opportunities to teach our kids about praying for our leaders, our community, and our hurting neighbors around the world. While we don’t want to expose them too early, what is happening right now in Ukraine is an opportunity to help kids develop compassion and learn to turn to prayer when they have big questions and feelings about our broken world.
Scriptures to Say and Pray Together
2 Thessalonians 3:3 NLT
But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT
So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord, your God will personally go ahead of you. He will never fail or abandon you.
Isaiah 41:10 NLT
Do not be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
Prayers to Pray Together
Pray with Preschoolers: Jesus, there are people hurting right now and we know that makes You sad. Please help them find ways to get along so they can stop fighting. Amen.
Pray with Elementary Schoolers: Jesus, please be with our neighbors around the world who are fighting and hurting right now. We pray for protection and peace. When we feel sad or overwhelmed, help us remember that You are always with us. Amen.
Pray with Older Kids: Jesus, we know that You don’t like war and it breaks Your heart to see people fighting and hurting. We ask You to protect our neighbors around the world and to bring peace to their countries. We thank You for the hope we have of a world without sin and suffering, because of Jesus. Amen.
Talking about war and geopolitical conflict with kids isn’t a fun or easy task, but it also isn’t avoidable. Whether questions arise from reading Bible stories, driving around your town, or hearing a scary report on the news, your kids will hear about war because we live in a broken world where wars and fighting are our reality. But as you talk to your kids, remind them of the goodness, justice, and sovereignty of God. He is worthy of all our trust and hope, no matter what is happening in the world.