How might we talk to our children about Ukraine?

How should parents and Sunday School teachers talk to worried and anxious children about what is going on in the World around us It is many years since we’ve seen such horrific genocidal conflict so close to home and with a level of danger from nuclear conflict hanging oh too realistically in the air.  If you are under 40 then such an environment seems to belong in fantasy stories or history books.  Yet here we are.  So here are a few thoughts

Tell them the story of what is happening simply but truthfully

We want to protect our children but we cannot shelter them from truth.  So, explain to them simply that Ukraine is an independent country where the people want to live under their own government and rules but Russia has sent in an army to fight a war that the Ukrainian people did not want or start.  Be clear about the difference between the decisions that leaders like Putin make and the people themselves who are not party to the decision. You can use maps to show them where in the world Russia and Ukraine are. It’s likely that they will have friends at school or even church whose families are from neighbouring countries such as Poland and Romania, show them.

Talk about good and evil, suffering, oppression and sin

Just as when we’ve talked about prayer for peace, we can’t talk with children about the horrors of war without talking about the fact that there is an oppressor here.  There may be all sorts of things that we could criticise Ukraine about, the country isn’t perfect, there may have been failings by the UK, EU and other NATO allies but ultimate, Putin is responsible for this evil. He has launched an unprovoked, murderous assault on a neighbour.

This is an opportunity to talk about two things. First that yes there is evil in the world and that the problem is with sinful human hearts. Second that suffering is persistently a problem in the world.  You may even want to talk at this stage about the suffering Ukrainian children have experienced over a generation as a consequence of Chernobyl.

We might talk about the causes of suffering.  We will want to emphasise that suffering is not in and of itself a direct consequence of personal sin. The children having to hide in bunkers now are no different to you and me.  However, suffering is present in the world as a consequence of the Fall. We can also identify 4 specific causes of sin.

  1. Some people suffer because of their own sin, so that they experience the consequences of it. That’s why for example sanctions are being imposed on Russia because the world’s leaders want Vladimir Putin to experience the consequences of his actions.
  2. Some people suffer because others seek to cause them harm. This is what is happening to the Ukrainian people right now.
  3. The Ukrainian president is putting his own life at risk and experiencing the danger and hardship of war even though he had the opportunity to flee and run his government in exile.  Sometimes people suffer because they are brave and choose to step in to the suffering of others. Many Ukrainian pastors and Christians are choosing to stay in Kyiv and other cities knowing that they will suffer because they want to help people and to be witnesses for Christ.
  4. Sometimes suffering is simply about circumstances, where we find ourselves in the world.  For example, many people have suffered during COVID.

We can talk about sin here.  None of us would ever want to or try to do the evil things that Putin is doing but God says that we all have sinned and fallen short of his glory.  We would not invade countries or murder people but we can still be bitter and hurtful towards others.  This is why Jesus came into the World to die for us so that we can be forgiven.

Talk practically about what we can do in the situation. We can pray for people who are suffering. We can also give to support Ukrainian churches.  It may be that some families from our churches will have accommodation and spare rooms to offer sanctuary to refugees as part of the planned sponsorship scheme.

Talk about fear and hope

Children will be picking up on rumours and fears, especially those who are a little older.  They may have heard people talking about nuclear war. They may not know what this means but it sounds frightening, and some people talk about the end of the World.

Simply explain that nuclear weapons are very powerful missiles/bombs that can destroy cities. They also result in something called radiation that spreads far and wide and can cause further sickness and suffering including cancer. Russia, America have a lot of these weapons and France, Britain and China also hold them in large quantities.  The big countries around the world have said that they do not want to use them because it would lead to a horrific, new kind of war. However, there is a risk that a country might be provoked to use one to try and scare others off.

Explain that the risk of this happening is very small. You can even talk about how their grandparents lived through something called the Cold War where there was an even greater risk and fear of these weapons but God looked after them and stopped nuclear war from happening.  It is very unlikely that nuclear weapons would be targeted on our homes. However, we should not lie and  we cannot pretend that there aren’t risks, just as there are all sorts of risks in life. Remind them of how we have faced other risks such as COVID in the past few years.

I think that sometimes we think that we should never let children see our fears as adults. Yet, I wonder if this approach is honest and ultimately helpful. I think that we can be open and say that there are things that sometimes cause us to feel afraid. However, we also know that our eternal life is safe in Jesus’ hands and so we don’t need to be overwhelmed by anxiety. We have the Holy Spirit and we can ask him to help us to be brave.

So, we point to where real hope is. Ultimately, we do not need to fear dictators and bombs, we do not need to fear suffering and war in this life. This isn’t because we will never have to suffer, it’s not because mums and dads or Sunday School teachers can promise you that these bad things won’t happen to us. Rather we know two things.

  1. This world is in God’s hands.  It will be his decision about when it ends. On that day, Jesus will come back and take those who love him to live with him safely for ever.
  2. Our lives are in his hands. We can trust him to take us safely through life and death to be with him forever. 
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