How Do I Talk to My Kids about Violence?
- Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jessica Thompson
- 2014 17 Oct
Violence is inescapable. In our family’s neighborhood, we recently witnessed a SWAT team action; my ten-year-old daughter informed me that the neighbor had severely beaten the woman he was living with. Even children who are protected in their homes from the abuse of evil outsiders frequently experience violence—from their siblings, from bullies at school, and even at church when a friend does something to hurt them.
Violence is part of human condition. It is part of our brokenness, and it is not necessarily a result of living in a violent environment. The first murder to ever occur was Cain’s slaying of Abel. Cain had never seen anyone kill another person—he didn’t learn violence from his environment. Rather, it was already in his heart.
Thankfully, even in the midst of this heartbreaking scene of fratricide, we catch a glimpse of the redemption that is to come. Another’s blood would also be spilled out of enraged envy (Mark 15:10). And this One’s blood would cry out to God from the ground, too, but his blood would cry out for our forgiveness rather than judgment.
We have a heavenly Father whose name is El Roi, which means, “a God who sees” (Genesis 16:13). Although an untimely death is certainly terrible, Jesus teaches us that dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen to us; dying apart from Christ is. If you are in him, you don’t need to fear death.
Talking to Our Kids
Of course, you won’t want to frighten children unnecessarily, so perhaps it would be best to let preschoolers lead in this area. Answer the questions they ask, but remember to keep it simple and concrete. Obviously, it is also wise to minimize their exposure to graphic images of destruction as much as you can.
There are very bad people in the world. There are people who want things so badly they will do anything to get those things. Have you ever wanted a toy so badly that you hit someone to get it? You know that anger you feel? Some very bad people feel that anger all the time and they want to hurt people. We don’t have to be afraid, though, because God is stronger than the strongest person in the whole world. God uses people in the army and the police to protect us from those bad people.
When you are scared of someone, you should always talk to us. We can help you if someone is hurting you. God put us in your life to help keep you safe. We can pray for the people who are so angry that they hurt others. God can change anyone’s heart. His love is stronger than their hate.
You don’t need to go into detail about the horrors of war. Just assure children that God is in control and you will do your best to take care of them.
Ages 5 to 10
Children in this age group will hear and understand more about violence. They have certainly experienced violence at this point in their lives. They have also probably heard about 9/11 at school or on the news. Again, we want to try to reassure them that even though we don’t know the future, we know our God.
There are bad people in the world. Each one of us has a desire in our hearts to get what we want when we want it. Do you ever feel so angry that you want to hit someone because they do something you don’t like? Well, some bad people who hurt others feel that anger all the time. In fact, they are controlled by their anger. When you are controlled by anger, you do all sorts of terrible things, and you think that what you are doing is right or you think the person you are being mean to deserves it. That is how our enemies or terrorists think. They are so convinced they are right that they don’t care about anybody else.
I know this might sound scary. We don’t have to be afraid, though, because Jesus promised that he would always take care of us. God put us, Mom and Dad, into your life to help protect you. God has also given us the military and the police to protect us. If anybody ever does anything to hurt you or threatens to hurt you, you need to make sure you tell us. People who are controlled by anger need someone stronger to stop them from hurting others. We can pray for people who are hurting others. Jesus prayed for the people who were killing him. Even though their hate is strong, God’s unstoppable love can change them. His love is stronger than the deepest hate.
Reassure your children that God knows the future and nothing can happen to them that won’t end up being for their good and his glory. We don’t always understand how God works, but we can know that he works in ways too glorious for us to know.
Ages 11 and Up
Children in this age range have probably seen videos from 9/11 or other terrible scenes: school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, etc. These kids have a real understanding of what terrorism is. We can be frank with them about the harshness of war, but we always want to do so in the context of giving hope in our strong God.
People have been hurting each other from the very beginning of time. You have heard the story about how Cain killed Abel because he was jealous of him. You know about terrorist attacks that have happened since then. You know how evil people can be. What you also need to understand is that the anger that drives those evil people is also in your own heart.
Have you ever felt so angry at people you wanted to hurt them? That anger is how violent people feel all the time. The Bible tells us we don’t need to be afraid of people who can kill us. That might sound a little funny, but let me explain. We don’t need to fear someone who wants to kill us because, if you are a believer, death is not your final destination. Death just brings you to Jesus. On the other hand, we do need to be afraid of God, who sees into our hearts and sees all our anger, and will judge all of humanity for its sin. If you think your own goodness or kindness is going to make God love you, you are wrong. Only the goodness of Jesus Christ will be enough to keep us from God’s judgment.
Sometimes when people act in violence, we want to hide. And while it is right to try to get out of the path of a violent person, we have a wonderful place to hide. We can hide in Christ. He lived perfectly. He never was sinfully angry at anyone, and he was never violent with anyone. If we believe God is as good as he says he is, and if we believe we are sinners who need to be forgiven, then when God looks at us, all he sees is the perfect life of Christ. We are hidden in him. We don’t need to be afraid of what violent people can do to us. We can pray that God changes the hearts of those who love violence. Their hatred may seem strong, but God’s love is stronger. He can change the heart of any person.
All children know what it is like to feel threatened and afraid of being harmed. Whether that harm comes to them from parents, siblings, friends, or foreign enemies, they need to be taught to trust in God. You can remind them of these words from the Psalms: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4).
In a Nutshell
- Conflict and violence has been part of the human experience since Cain murdered his brother Abel.
- The seeds of violence and war are in the hearts of all people who want something they do not have and are willing to fight to get it.
- Not all violence is bad. Sometimes people have to use violence to protect themselves from other angry, greedy people.
- We do not have to be afraid, because for the Christian, even death cannot separate us from the love of Christ.
Excerpted and adapted from Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions (Bethany House, 2014) by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. Used with permission.
Elyse Fitzpatrick is a nationally known speaker and author, speaking regularly at such conferences as The Gospel Coalition and Revive. She holds a certificate in biblical counseling from CCEF (San Diego) and an MA in biblical counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary. She has authored 17 books on daily living and the Christian life and lives with her husband in Escondido, California. Learn more at www.elysefitzpatrick.com.
Jessica Thompson speaks at women's conferences and homeschooling conferences. She has a bachelor's degree in theology and coauthored Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus with her mom, Elyse. She is married with three children and lives in Poway, California.
Publication date: October 17, 2014