By: Christine French Cully, Editor in Chief, Highlights for Children
Given the negativity and volatility of the political arena this year, talking to your kids about the election is more critical than ever. In our annual State of the Kid™ survey, Highlights for Children polled kids ages six to twelve about the election and discovered 80 percent of kids surveyed said they are talking about the election at least a little at home. Parents shouldn’t be afraid of this topic of conversation. Talking about the election can not only provide a springboard for educating children about our political system; it provides a natural opportunity to help children develop a wide set of skills including critical thinking, empathy, and self-awareness.
Here are some tips to help you navigate difficult conversations with your children during these last few days of the election season:
- Ask questions.
Ask your kids open-ended questions to help gauge their awareness, knowledge and understanding. While you might think having to address negative, unkind comments might only feed the negative feeling surrounding the election, you can turn the conversation into an opportunity for the child to use critical thinking skills to formulate their own opinions. This exercise can also help to reinforce important morals like honesty, kindness, and treating everyone with respect.
- Listen first.
Listening is the most important thing we can do when our kids are feeling anxious or confused. Allow kids time to express their feelings and listen without assuming you know what will be said – it will help you to best decode and understand your child, as well as provide the best response. Does he or she just want to better understand? Or are they worried about something they saw on the news?
- Put their concerns into perspective.
Kids’ concerns seem to very much mirror those of their parents. When asked, “What is the first thing the new president should work on?” 50 percent of our respondents said, “keeping the country safe.” Our friend and State of the Kid contributor, Dr. Sasha Ribic, a child clinical psychologist, had some good insights into this topic: “By nature, kids are good observers, but bad interpreters. While kids will astutely observe safety is an issue, they aren’t good at interpreting what it means for them.” Dr. Ribic suggests using this safety analogy for kids: If you filled a room with popcorn, and one piece has a red dot on it, would you be able to find that piece? Probably not. The chances of something terrible or fatal happening to you are just as unlikely.
- Get them involved.
Parents can take their kids to the polls on Election Day to inspire them and give them hope. By getting kids involved in the voting process, you can show them first hand how it works and get them excited about civic involvement.