In this heated election year talking to your kids about politics is pretty much non-negotiable. Even if your son or daughter is not asking direct questions, young minds are definitely tuned in to the presidential race. Kids are trying to make sense of everything they hear, and let’s face it—campaigns and debates don’t always bring out the best in people. This makes your job as a parent critical.
So, how do you help your child sort things out, juggle strong opinions, and navigate some very “adult” topics this fall? Here are five tips to make sure your parenting strategy leads to a win:
1. Listen to your what your child has to say about politics. The easy part will be opening your ears. The tough part will be holding your tongue, momentarily, but it’s crucial to give your child a chance to share his or her ideas and questions without immediately launching into a lecture (or possibly a rant). Creating a judgment-free zone for your child will send the message that you really value their point of view.
2. Guide, but don’t push. If your child cites misinformation or parrots headlines without a solid understanding of the issues, take time to review facts and give your child space to draw his or her own conclusions. While the urge to have your child see things from your perspective may be strong, raising a thoughtful consumer of information is the goal. This protects your child from buying into ideas just because someone else tells them to.
3. Send the message that respect is non-negotiable. Undoubtedly, campaigns involve some degree of mud slinging. This is a hard concept for kids to accept, especially as they are held to high standards when it comes to combating bullying and treating peers with kindness. Explain that even well educated adults sometimes behave poorly and that communicating respectfully is the best way to be heard. And don’t tolerate below-the-belt commentary during family conversations.
4. Focus on empowerment. Even though your child may be years away from voting, it’s never too early to talk about being active and involved. Discuss issues that are important to your family, neighborhood, and culture. If possible, take your child with you when you vote at least once. That experience makes a lasting impression and will send the message that participating in the process is something to look forward to.
5. Just say no to hysteria. Adults say all sorts of things out of emotion and most of them are taken with a grain of salt—except if you’re a kid. Kids interpret things more literally and, despite what you might think, they believe most of what their parents say. Be ready to explain that people (maybe yourself included) don’t always mean what they say. So, Aunt Rose is not moving to Canada if this one wins and the country will probably not be destroyed if that one wins.
Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in Neuropsychology, and a mom of two. She provides parents with a no-nonsense approach to navigating the daily grind while preparing their child for the challenges they’ll face in the real world. www.stephanieoleary.com.