This is Part 1 of a two-part series on discussing world events with your kids. Look for Part 2, “When Kids Ask ‘Why does God let people be bad and mean?’” tomorrow.
Explaining a complicated and grown-up world to children is one of the most challenging parts of parenting. What do we allow them to know? What is the best response to their questions? How much of a window into the rest of the world do we allow our children to have?
This challenge is exaggerated when the grown-up world includes pain, evil, fear and war. This morning, the heartbreaking situation in Ukraine put my mama skills to the test in some new ways.
Before I explain more, I want to share the commitment that my husband and I have jointly made in our home:
Our commitment, as a family, is to be a Household Well. This isn’t just because I am on staff at the Church. It is because we believe that our household has been called to be a well where people can access the Living Water. Part of that is also intentionally welcoming Jesus into our home and discipling our children to be able to follow Jesus and participate in sharing His love with others. You can read more about being a household well here.
So, back to those mama skills: I have a 6-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son. As early risers, they often are exposed to the news in the morning as they play or eat their breakfast. For the most part, my husband and I let them watch the news, with discretion. We use it as an opportunity to explain things in kid-friendly language, to incorporate our faith into their worldview as they try to make sense of what they see and hear.
I know that our approach may not be one that all parents agree with. And I understand. Deciding what to expose our children to is part of the daily struggle that parents must wade through. I will try to unpack more of our reasons and perspective in the second post in this series. But for today, be assured that I thoughtfully decided my children were capable of hearing and processing this information while I worked through that with them.
This morning, I knew that Ukraine would dominate not only the news, but it would dominate discussions between my husband and I, and possibly discussions our kids could overhear at school or on the bus. I decided to be proactive, framing the situation in a kid-appropriate way and from a Christian worldview, before they had to process the information on their own. And I am so, so thankful that I did.
My willingness to enter into this conversation with my kids allowed space for them to ask vital questions and for us to practice placing trust in Jesus. I’m sharing the insights I learned from my conversation with my kids in hopes of helping other parents as these conversations come up at home.
Tip 1: Address tough topics before your children hear about them from others. Before we turned on the TV, I got my thoughts together and pulled out a map. We sat on the couch and I framed the situation in a way that was fact-based and without fear.
Tip 2: Explain world events in a way that is age-appropriate, using language that is familiar and understandable to your child. For my 8 year old, it went something like this:
This big country is Russia. The leader of Russia is not a nice guy. He isn’t a kind leader, and he wants to take things that aren’t his to take. He doesn’t do a good job of being friends with other countries.
This country here is Ukraine. It is a smaller country but has a lot of resources that are important to the whole world. They share those resources and want to be friends with other countries. Ukraine wants everyone to know that they are their own country and have their own leader. The leader of Russia wants to be the leader of Ukraine. He doesn’t want them to be their own country. He wants their land and resources to belong to Russia and not to the people in Ukraine. The leader of Russia has decided he is going to use war to take those things from Ukraine.
My son had some questions about what would happen to the people in Ukraine if Russia took over as well as a few other, detail-based questions. I wasn’t completely sure he understood until his sister, our 6-year-old, came out of her room. On his own, he took her to our map and gently explained, with even softer language, what I had just told him. He understood. A bad guy wanted to take things that weren’t his, and people were going to be hurt and scared.
Tip 3: Don’t give more information than necessary. I didn’t explain all of the politics behind the situation. I didn’t explain “sanctions”. I did say that our president and other leaders were doing their best to make the leader of Russia change his mind. I didn’t get into Russian history or what a separtist region is or any of the details on how war is carried out.
As adults, sometimes we think the more information we give, the safer children will feel. I’ve noticed in my years of working with children that when they start to be confused is when they start to feel unsafe. Fewer words and more-concrete explanations allow children to process events in a way that they are ready for. If a child needs more information, they will ask. Which leads me to the next tip … .
Tip 4: Answer only the questions that are asked. My children wanted to know if people could go to a safe place. They wanted to know if our country was one of the good guys helping Ukraine. They shared some ideas on how to solve the problem. “Can I go talk to the Russian president and tell him he’s making the wrong choice?” I answered questions concretely and admitted when I didn’t know the answer.
Tip 5: Give space for processing and emotions. Be ready for the heart questions. Earlier I mentioned that I was so thankful that I had this discussion with my kids. Opening up this conversation allowed my son an opportunity to ask what he really wanted to know. I was able to enter into an internal struggle that I’m certain wasn’t a new one for him. It’s the question that we all want the answer to. “But why does God let people be bad and mean?”
This question didn’t happen immediately. We had moved on from our conversation, had the news on in the background, and were laughing over a card game we were playing. All of a sudden I noticed he had watery eyes.
“What are you thinking about, buddy?”
“But why does God let people be bad and mean?” The gate to a discipleship moment was opened, and together we walked through it.
Look for that moment with your child. The moment when you can start talking to their heart. Affirm their struggle and questions. And then guide them to a place where they can realize truths about who God is and His presence in their lives.
(Note: Tomorrow’s blog post will address how to discuss that big question, ‘Why does God let people be bad and mean?’ with your kids.)
Tip 6: Model trust in Jesus while empowering children to make a difference. Children are action-oriented. They see a problem and want to be part of a solution. They are often fearless in this determination to see justice happen.
My children want to help the people of Ukraine. So I told them we would look for ways to help. I reminded them that Jesus loves them, and that they are safe. Truthfully, they weren’t interested in my reassurances of their safety. Their concern was for the Ukrainian people.
So we prayed. And as we prayed, their bodies relaxed. They placed their fear at the feet of Jesus and felt empowered as they lifted up the Ukrainian people in prayer.
Our world is a big place and can feel scary and uncertain. As parents who are committed to discipling our children, we can trust that the Holy Spirit works in and through us. We can help our children look at the world through a Biblical worldview – with love, compassion, trust in God, and the power of Jesus within them.