The other day, my stepdad was walking my two children to school when my 5-year old daughter turned to him out of the blue and said “Are you going to vote for Donald Trump?”
Then my 7-year old son, who gets amped by any talk of competition, piped in and said “Or, do you want Hillary to win?”
He dodged the questions, asking them what they thought, but concerned he had broken some parenting rules, he texted me a few minutes later: “The kids asked me about Trump! How do you keep politics away from them?”
“I don’t” I replied with a smile.
My kids don’t watch the news. But with the signs on people’s lawns, radio commentary they hear in the car, and their eavesdropping on adult conversations, kids know there’s a fierce national competition in the works — and they want to know all about it.
Talking to kids about politics can open a huge can of worms. They don’t typically forget – or drop – conversations. They often want to know more and why/why not and ask you simple questions that seem impossible to explain. But at the same time, it’s a great way to discuss the life outside of their bubble. They hear about so much in school. They are surrounded by more media and information than we are even aware – and they need a safe, comfortable place to learn, question and feel some understanding.
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Here are some important things to remember:
- Stay neutral. Personally, I want to raise free-thinkers. Kids who will vote for the issues they feel are important, and not who their parents want to win. My kids do know who I want to be president, but I’m trying to impartially share both points of view and let them decide who would get their vote.
- Encourage solutions. There are certain topics kids might understand, at the very basic level: Immigration, health care, gun restrictions, and school funding could be some you could synthesize and explain very simply. Here’s the problem…what would you do if you were President?
- Challenge their thoughts. In our car, kitchen counter or dining room table – wherever these conversations occur – there are no wrong answers, only challenging questions. When one child says that every American should be able to go to any doctor for free, I tell them I love that idea, but ask how the doctor would make money. And when their very naïve retort is that doctors would work for free, I encouragingly say it’s a great concept – but ask how the doctor would pay for their own house and for their kids’ activities. I’m not trying to be a huge pain in their side, but it’s important for them to understand how much thought and compassion needs to go into solving these problems.
- Try to avoid the ugly. Literally. We’ve heard the candidates name-calling, mocking and speaking about each other negatively. Personally, I’m hoping to keep this away from my kids as much as possible because I don’t want them seeing that any “name-caller” is a well-regarded adult with (possible) power. But they ultimately hear everything at school, and my response is something like: sometimes when people really want to win, they get really mean. Some people think this is funny — and some people think that this is horrible. What do you think?
- Talk values. As complicated as politics are, it’s a great opportunity for you to teach both individual and family values. You might have a child who thinks entirely differently than you do – and that’s okay. Those are his or her values. But it’s still important to model what your values are as parents—as a family, and even if your political views differ, how some values can still unite you.
By Katie Bugbee, Care.com Senior Managing Editor, www.care.com