How to Talk with Your Kids about the Syria Crisis

Last month I had a conversation with my five year old nephew about Syrian refugees. It was proceeded by a radio broadcast I found myself glued to a few days prior. The host was leading a discussion about who in the world had failed Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach after he drowned with his mother and brother while trying to escape Syria’s civil war. This image captivated the world and “woke the west up” to what many would describe as the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.  

The images of this little boy’s body, collapsed as if exhausted and asleep in his bed, have prompted debates around the world over who bears responsibility of containing the Syrian war and providing sanctuary to its desperate victims. This argument descends into political debate, which is complex and important, but wasn’t the level my nephew, who is five, was interested in when we talked about it.

Instead, he was outraged that children like him are dying because they have nowhere to go.  He didn’t understand why they can’t come to the States and be safe like him. And, it made me think, how much can you tell a child about violent conflicts? We must inevitably introduce our children to a broken and hurting world paving the way for conversations around God’s heart and character and OUR role in serving, showing compassion, praying and caring for the poor and vulnerable. As much as we want to protect their eyes and ears from negative images, one way or another, they will be opened up to it. But gosh, easier said than done, or is that just me?

So I asked around.  I talked to World Vision, our NCC mission partners, about how to discuss this and take the opportunity, as parents, to engage with our children about the world we live in in light of faith and belief of God.who our God is. So here are a few thoughts for how to discuss a global crisis like Syrian Refugees with your children:

  1.  Tell a story: Abdul and Noor are brother and sister (pictured below). Five and seven years old. They used to play in the streets with other friends. They laughed and went to school to learn. Only a few days ago, their village was bombed because of people fighting each other. The bomb nearly destroyed their house. So they all raced out of the house they grew up in and fled! Last night and the night before, they slept on the ground with their family after having walked 15 miles across the border in Europe. The will likely never see their home again.  
  2.  Be honest: Explain the truth in a child-friendly way. Children have a right to truthful information about what’s going on in the world, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. There are as many as six million children, some of whom don’t have a mom and dad anymore and are very sad.  
  3.  Introduce them to God’s character: Showing the problem allows us to reveal God’s character to children. Psalm 18:30 says, “Our God - his way is perfect; His words prove true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” While some children no longer have homes to live in, we can all take refuge in Him who loves us. And He shows his love through people! People like Lisa from World Vision who yesterday met Abdul and Noor and brought them food and set up a place for them to live in Germany. God uses us to care for those in need.
  4.  Take action: For one night, maybe sleep on the floor with your children instead of in your own beds. All in one room. This could be an opportunity to show them what it’s like for many families and children who are refugees. This can help develop compassion. Or consider sponsoring a child! Or contact and learn how to give household items to refugee families in the DC area in desperate need of care.  
  5.  Pray: For Abdul and his sister Noor and their family. Pray that resources would be provided for them: bedding on which to sleep, daily food, and medical treatment. Pray that they would experience love from World Vision workers mobilized to provide support. Pray that Christians would rise up and serve those who are most in need like Abdul and Noor.

It may be difficult to have these conversations with your children, but I want to challenge you: don’t miss the opportunity to influence how they think about the world and how the hope of Christ changes our perspective and responsibility as believers.

Dave Schmidgall is the Campus Pastor at National Community Church Lincoln Theatre location. He is also the International Director for A1:8, NCC's initiative for engaging in both local and global missions. Schmidgall believes the Church is the vehicle for helping repair and restore our hurting and broken world.