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 Afghanistan after 20 years of conflict there. I’m uncertain how to process it all, let alone answer the concerned glances my daughter gives me when we’re watching or listening to the news.
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, they will be. Today that burden feels heavier than ever, with tragedy in Afghanistan, the resurgence of Covid-19, devastating flooding in our own community, and so many other things.
But it doesn’t equip our kids if we bury our heads in the sand, pretending that everything is okay. We can share (in an age-appropriate way) the heaviness of our broken world, all along 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 disagree about something, and they fight.
For young elementary schoolers: Wars are long fights between countries or groups of people. There were wars in history, and there are still wars today.
For upper elementary schoolers: You’ve probably heard about wars that have happened in history from school. There are still wars today, between countries and groups of people.
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.
2. Reassure them of God’s character.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice the earth is full of his unfailing love.
If your kids ask, “but why does God allow for 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 equips His people to win battles against countries and kings who try to hurt them. God is always perfectly just and loves His people. Because of sin, fighting and war are a part of history. But God is always good.
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?
3. Teach them how to respond with grace and love.
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.
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.
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.
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Melanie Rainer is a bookworm from birth who makes her days writing and reading in Nashville, where she also serves on staff at Christ Presbyterian Church. She has an M.A. in Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary. She is the co-author of This Is the Gospel and This Is the Christmas Story, and has written more than a dozen Bible studies, Scripture journals, and other spiritual formation resources for kids and families.