America is experiencing one of the nastiest elections in history, filled with name-calling, bullying and division. As parents, this behavior is what most families are trying to teach their children not to do; yet it’s playing out on a national scale before us all.
Give your kids the chance to understand and approach politics at their own level. Here are some resources to use:
Even if this election cycle is driving you crazy, no matter which side you are on, it’s still a great opportunity to teach your kids about what you believe and want for our country.
“Politics is a great launching point for so many meaningful conversations with kids aged 2 to 20,” says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a nationally recognized parenting and youth development expert. “This is an endless opportunity to talk to kids about topics that matter to you, and to point out good and bad behavior when the kids themselves are not on the spot.”
Don’t be afraid to tell kids what you think, she says. “This is actually a huge influence on kids and a great time to back up your beliefs with facts and explanations.”
Yet she warns not to launch into your stump speech, or you’ll lose their attention quickly.
“Kids respond best when we listen to their views as well as sharing your own. So approach these issues with questions before statements, which will allow you to learn your child’s opinions and help your child to feel respected and mature.”
Parenting Editor at Common Sense Media, Caroline Knorr, recommends that parents don’t talk politics, but instead focus on the issues.
“It’s important for this to be a conversation though, as opposed to a lecture, and be sure you are asking your kid open-ended questions about what their thoughts and beliefs are,” Knorr says.
“Allow your kid to form his own opinions, but that doesn’t mean that you should hide your own.”
Helping your children navigate political topics is especially crucial considering the impact and presence of social media.
“Once kids are on social media, they are getting news constantly served up to them through their Newsfeed, and it can be hard to distinguish fact from opinion and what sources are credible,” says Knorr.
Instead of shielding the kids this election season, turn the bad behavior into a learning opportunity.
“The only reason to like the bad behavior and name-calling is the chance if gives us to show our kids how not to behave,” says Gilboa. “Mostly we only have the opportunity to point out ugliness to our kids when they are the ones misbehaving. Now we have the opportunity to call people out for name-calling, shaming and lying, and our kids aren’t the ones in trouble.”
“Call this what it is and face your kids’ hard questions about how adults in power are doing this and be the moral compass your kids need,” adds Gilboa.
Ultimately, politics and election years can be excellent history lessons for children.
Children’s writer Kelly DiPucchio was inspired by her editor’s daughter, who saw a poster of the American presidents in her classroom and asked, “Where are the girls?”
She took that idea and wrote the children’s book, Grace for President, which has inspired classroom discussions across the country about the election process, government and leadership.
“I feel it’s important to begin a civic education at a very young age and make it a continuous learning process,” says DiPucchio. “I think all children need to know they have a voice and the power to make a difference in our country and in our world.”
Common Sense Media believes that elections are an ideal time to teach more about our country’s history and how the electoral process actually works, Knorr says.
“Part of our country is ensuring that everyone has a voice, so instill in them the pride and honor in voting and making informed decisions,” says Knorr. “They will one day have the right to vote, so show them now what a privilege that is.”