Politics & Parenting: How Parents Can Help Kids Make Sense of the 2020 Election by Robbin McManne Parent Coach
The world is watching the election in the United States. There is confusing and contradictory information out there, so how do parents make sense of the election, and how do they talk to their kids about it?
As parents, we want to be the source of information for our kids. They are looking to us for what to believe and how to act. We need to remember how strong our influence is on our kids so let’s use this election to talk about the government and your own personal values. There are big issues the world is facing, and our kids’ lives have been turned upside down because of it. They’re worried, they’re feeling scared and unsafe and if they see you demonstrating fear, worry and stress, they’ll feel even more unsettled.
I want parents to know they don’t have to have all the answers to their kids’ questions. If you don’t know, be honest, and look things up together. Keep things as age appropriate and simplified as you can.
Ask your kids open-ended questions:
- Who would they vote for? Why?
- What do you think makes a strong leader?
- What do you think of the candidates?
- What do you like and not like?
You may not realize it, but our kids are talking about the election, and remember, they are looking to you about what to say and how to act, so make sure you are being a good role model. When you enter into a discussion with your kids, make sure you are prepared to listen to them. If they have different opinions from you, find out how they came to that. I would be careful about turning this into lecture about your beliefs, but rather an opportunity for you to learn what your child knows, thinks and feels.
If you are tuned into the election, your kids might pick up on the fact that the adults running may say unkind things, try to make the other person look bad or lie. If they ask you questions about why grownups are acting this way, you can:
- Explain to them that sometimes adults can act badly, but that doesn’t give us the permission to do the same.
- You can tell them that just like everyone, sometimes a person’s behavior is bad, but that doesn’t mean they are a bad person.
- You can offer them some examples where you can demonstrate cause and effect, where this person acted badly, and that resulted in an unfavorable outcome for them. That there are natural consequences for adults, too!
- Use this opportunity to talk about your family values and why you have them. Ask them if they see someone behaving badly, what they think about it. What would they do in that situation? Would that change their vote?
With the two sides of the election and passionate supporters on both sides, how can you show your kids it’s OK to disagree with someone from across the aisle and still be friends?
- Tell your kids that if someone wants something different from you, that doesn’t mean we have permission to be rude, mean or judgmental.
- Show them that although they are different parties, there are some similarities. What are they? Focus on what you can agree on. The fact is, both parties want the best for the country, the economy and the people, and there is more than one way to achieve desired outcomes!
- It’s OK to disagree with someone, but focus on the commonalities and avoid getting into petty battles. Just because we don’t agree, it doesn’t mean you are my enemy.
It’s important to remind kids that you can’t believe everything you see and read. This means we need to look at the news we are consuming and where it’s coming from.
- Teach them that different media outlets will report stories differently because they can take sides.
- Show them that you can question and challenge what you consume. Ask, does that sound true?
- Demonstrate what it means to fact check. Can you find a non-partisan source with the facts that don’t lean to the right or left?
- We also need to show them that getting their news from social media can be a bad idea because in this election in particular, each side is working hard to vilify the other and this is the worst part of politics. That’s why it’s important to encourage them to ask lots of questions
When I interviewed award-winning political campaign strategist John Shallman on my Podcast, Parenting our Future, he suggested using political cartoons to demonstrate how we are allowed to challenge the political system. Show them cartoons, ask them what it’s trying to say and if they agree or disagree.
Empower your kids and show them they have a voice, that it matters and they can question and fight for the things they believe in. Show them examples of other kids who are making a difference like Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager who organized and inspired a climate change movement adopted all over the world. Show them where they can make a difference in your community or school.
What matters most is that you allow for open and honest discussions with your kids. Ask lots of open-ended questions, solicit ideas and thoughts and listen, really listen, to what they have to say. Do your best to lead by example and keep things simple and age appropriate.
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