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Talking About The Election With Your Child

Dear Parent,

The election brings up strong feelings as well as opportunities to discuss your values and opinions with your child. A few tips which may be helpful are:

  • Ensure your child knows the language and understands the process. Younger children are matching words to their vocabulary and may wonder why the word “party” is frequently associated with the candidates. Children in the middle years are in the process of understanding who they are in relation to others. Understanding proper terminology will aid them in this process. Children in this stage as well as older children may need to understand the electoral college and how it works.

  • Share your values. Younger children will most likely know an election will occur, but do not need to hear the events in the news on a regular basis. Middle years and older children are understanding their value system in comparison to and in accordance with yours. Convey your family values regularly and with consistent language, taking advantage of the news to share how the actions of candidates do or do not resonate with your value system. In particular, note for middle and older children, when the words or actions of a candidate do not reflect and support your family values.

  • Provide assurances. Children of all ages impacted by the deportation conversation discussions need to hear they are safe, loved and cared for. Friends of children impacted by the deportation conversation need to know their friends are safe, loved and cared for. Contact school support staff if your family is in this situation so they can guide you on the language used at school and provide a safe place during the day for your children to share their feelings.

  • Look for ears and eyes. As with most heated topics, children are curious about your opinions. It is important to note that when having passionate discussions, though possibly not be visibly present, children may over hear you and draw conclusions. These conclusions are based on putting together small pieces of information rather than the entire thought.

  • Ask and answer. I like the rule “one question/thought, one sentence, one more question/thought, one more sentence…” Frequently letting children know they can ask questions and share thoughts. However, to avoid putting too much of our ‘stuff’ on them, answer each question or thought in one sentence and then offer time for another thought or question, followed by one sentence and so on until your child is satisfied. This strategy gives you time to breath, better ensures that you know what they are really asking and limits overwhelming them.

  • Practice, practice, practice. As our children grow, we have fewer opportunities to hear the depths of their feelings, how they are developing their opinions and what their values are. Families can pick a topic discussed in the election, do some research, develop a proposed policy statement and present it to each other. Note: If you choose to do this activity, it is important for all members of the family to participate as best they are able thereby modeling a sense of engagement.

  • Focus on change agency. We live in a country with freedom of expression and opportunities for all to be part of change. Children as young as preschool can be change agents. Helping them explore their concerns and helping them develop ideas for how they can be change agents empowers them to see themselves as part of a process. Change agency can be as small as helping to negotiate a family rule to as large as initiating a community anti-bullying program. No matter the size of the effort, kids can be effective leaders and change agents.

For more resources, please visit my elections page where you will also find resources and lessons for PK-12 teachers to use.

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