It’s another presidential election season. This time, the whole process seems a bit louder and more difficult to digest than normal. The dialogue among the candidates is angry and hostile.
What do we tell a developing child? The overwhelming amount of media, plus a constant public dialogue, can guarantee that most school-age children, and even younger, have heard about the election. And they may be very confused by what they hear and see.
How do we guide them through this?
I think it’s best that we ask them what they know. If they have heard nothing, but you feel they are old enough to comprehend, then it’s OK to provide simple information about the process and its importance. You may want to briefly explain the role of an American president, and talk about how they will learn more about this throughout their school years.
But what if your kids have an opinion? What if they have heard some harsh and unfriendly statements about candidates? And, what if they are openly repeating these things?
It’s something I am having to deal with. My 8-year-old and 6-year-old certainly know what’s up, mostly from newscasts heard in the car and plenty of comments out in the public. What is a parent to do, especially since they are both very interested in the election these days?
First, find out what they have heard.
Ask, “Why do you feel that way?” It’s healthy to uncover thoughts on how they arrived at a view -- but not in an effort to dictate their thinking. Instead, you are helping them process and problem solve what they have heard.
Second, discuss your family’s values.
There is a lot of conflict in the way our politicians talk and interact, and these are not model behaviors for raising children. That’s why it’s a good idea to discuss your family’s approach to conflict resolution. In the context of what a child has heard, perhaps you ask, “Is there a different and better way to discuss these differences? How would we solve these differences within our own family?”
Third, create a conversation.
This opens the door to discussing the traits and characteristics that your family wants to display when there are disagreements. Making it about “bad” or “good” people should not be the focus. Instead, create a conversation that is about right and wrong behaviors among people of all ages. And by showing a respect for differing opinions, you can really have an impact on a child’s development and behavior.
In the end, a not-very-nice political season may be the perfect time for a family to model empathetic words and actions in all disagreements. Doing so may guide children not just in political discussions, but also help them gravitate towards politicians and people who most reflect these important values.
Dr. Trenna Sutcliffe loves kids, families, pets, travel and hiking. Discover more about her work here.