Most of America knows the current political atmosphere reflects one of the most contentious elections in history. The news and social media is filled with venomous accusations and language we might not want our children to hear.
Words and messages do make a difference
There are messages that seem to go against what many of us believe is true about Americans being civil, fair, and open to discussions and even debates.
Many Americans wish that we could focus on policies and not on personalities. Most of us are aware that this is an emotionally charged time for the citizens of our country.
Some people I have interacted with recently describe themselves as experiencing powerful, chronic emotions that are reflective of what they are seeing and hearing on a daily basis. Many of us may be feeling highly anxious, scared and disgusted. Others may feel numb. Some are just eager to get past the election so life can return to normal.
How is the fervor affecting our children?
While many adults are experiencing all this, it is important for parents to tune into how the political fervor is impacting their children. Children are attuned to parents’ feelings, and if parents are feeling confused or anxious, children can become confused and anxious as well.
One way to view this election is as an opportunity to engage children in conversations, and to teach them about our American values, beliefs and the processes that make our democracy work.
It is chance to educate children, to invite them to share their observations, thoughts and feelings.
It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge even to children who will one day be voting that we can be concerned and want to make intelligent decisions that reflect our values.
Depending on the age of your child, think about the following questions you might ask to stimulate some important discussions:
- What do you know about the upcoming election? What do you know about how elections run in general?
- What have you observed when you watch political commercials, news broadcasts, things said on social media?
- What questions or concerns do you have?
- Are there things you are noticing that you disapprove of? What are they? How do you think some of the people you are seeing and hearing should behave?
- What are some of your friends saying about all this? Are people being fair and respectful when they speak to each other? Are you being fair and respectful?
Many of our children have been and are going to continue to be exposed to a lot of emotionality and volatility in this election season, even in their conversations with their friends at school.
As parents, you are encouraged to prepare ahead of time for those conversations with your children. Share your own values and opinions that promote healthy attitudes about the rights of each person in this country to his or her beliefs, perspectives and opinions, even when we disagree. Invite new awareness, clarity and patriotism and help your children have important conversations with others.
Regardless of exactly how we do it…
We can all benefit from a little infusion of pride and hope for our country, and for how we as Americans who are a passionate people will defend our democracy and hopefully maintain civility in the process. We can all be models to the children around us to whom the responsibility of preserving and protecting our precious democracy will one day rest.
(For a little comic relief, you might want to check out the parody Tom Hanks did on Saturday Night Live on October 22 in which he did a father-to-child fireside chat, only the child was actually America! http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/october-22-tom-hanks/3116436?onid=139011&fe=1#vc139011=1. )
Invitation to Reflect
- Consider how much you know about the American political system and the way our government works. Are you in need of a “tune-up?” Consider buying some American Government and/or American History books online or checking these out at your local library. Be prepared to answer your children’s questions and to explain significant basics of how our country operates.
- Notice the messages you may be transmitting as you talk about this year’s election, the debates, even the commercials. Consider these opportunities to guide your children, incorporate some of your family values and invite them to be critical thinkers.
- Consider taking your children with you to vote and explaining each step in the process. By modeling this, you can ensure that your children will know it will one day be on of their responsibilities as a citizen of this wonderful country
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network
Disclaimer: this message is not intended as support for any political party, candidate or issue