March 8th, 2022 Shield Bearer | How to talk about war

How are you feeling today? These past few days, with violence breaking out in Ukraine, many of us have heavy hearts and a rising level of concern. Prayer requests are piling up on social media posts, and video updates from Ukraine are on every news outlet. It’s hard to know what to do with this steady stream of graphic and heartbreaking news coverage.

If you’re a bible reader, Psalms is a great place to go when you start to feel overwhelmed and afraid. King David faced coming violence and war when he penned Psalm 27, among many others. “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid.”

This Psalm is a reminder that God is our light, our salvation, and our stronghold. He’s our safety. As a father of five, my thoughts go to my children. I’m not the only one bombarded with news of war and conflict. How can I ease their anxiety and concerns about these world events? My children hear the news no matter what we do as parents to shelter and protect them, and they, understandably, conjure up their thoughts, questions, and concerns.

While the events are nearly 10,000 miles away, they might as well be happening next door with modern technology. I don’t have firsthand experience walking through a war zone, and I can’t begin imagining what it would be like fearing for my children’s lives and trying to protect them as a war raged in my own country. I should at least try to help them understand and cope with this news rather than leave it to rot in their imaginations. But how do we talk to our children about something that we have difficulty understanding?

Here are a few tips.

Keep it age-appropriate.
Some young children are happy in their world of play and make-believe. If your children are too young to notice what is going on, you don’t have to tell them. As long as they feel safe and secure, don’t unnecessarily burden them with the information they are not old enough to grasp. Yet as they grow and mature, they will naturally have questions about the concerns of adults and the world. As they make this transition, they may need basic answers that reassure them and make them feel safe and secure. At the same time, some may start asking challenging questions, developing solid opinions, and tackling significant issues. I’ve got one or more in each of these stages in my brood.

When talking to your children, speak truthfully. They know how to spot phony, and just like we try to teach them, it’s challenging to win back trust after it’s lost. You want your children to come to you with their questions and concerns, so it’s essential to give them honest feedback when you have the privilege of their audience. If your child is young and you don’t want to cross the line by sharing too much detailed information, you can start by asking them questions about what they’ve heard and seen. You should correct inaccurate information and strive to address their fears.

If your children are on social media, they have seen and heard much more, I assure you. Much of what they know is a mixture of accuracies and misinformation. Some kids are open about their concerns, and some hide behind various safety barriers. Fear of a world war is a valid concern and shouldn’t be brushed aside. Think about what our children have gone through these past few years. The stability of their world has been turned upside down multiple times, and things that have never happened before have. Be prepared to give responses. Talk it through with them and aim for reassurance. Stay calm and focus on what is known and not the fear of the unknown.

Consider a media break.
Especially when younger children are present, it might be good to shut off the news outlets, and social media feeds. This advice can be good no matter the age.
If the coverage and message of the day’s news contribute towards feelings of anxiety, being overwhelmed and depression, then take a break. You might not control what is going on in the world, but you can control the amount you take in and expose yourself and your family. This advice was good throughout the pandemic and the election cycle, and it’s good advice concerning what’s happening in Ukraine. Many of the scenes breaking on the news channels and social media are live, captured on phones, and not edited. They can be too much for many adults to see; our children certainly, do not need to be exposed to them. Don’t just turn the media off, but use that time to engage in other activities. Do something physically active, take a walk, play a board game, or do some other family activity that brings you all together.

Find the good.
In every difficult situation, there is good to see. Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” His childhood experience with his very wise mom was an important seed that blossomed into his long and famous career. We have done this throughout the past few years, and we need to do this now.

There are heroes within every difficult time; there are always helpers and Shield-Bearers. These are those who stand alongside others and help protect, help heal, help bear the burden, and walk alongside those who are going through the difficult thing. Look for the good and help your children identify those who are good. Good still exists; find it and be a part of it…

We can all pray.
Since the events in Ukraine are on the other side of the world, and for most of us, it might be a challenge to know how to help – though there are many good organizations here that are doing work there – consider prayer. Model for your children how you take your worries, heartache, fears, and concerns to God through prayer. Let your children see that you turn to God in your darkness, and this will plant the seed that they will need one day when they face their own darkness.
Pray for the safety of those fighting, pray for those fearful and alone, pray for those who are scared, hurt, lost, and weak.

Pray for peace between countries and peace within families.