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Moms Talk: Talking Politics with Kids

Donkeys and Elephants and media, oh my! In this week’s Moms Talk we discuss talking to children about politics.

Every four years in our country, political dialogue reaches a fever pitch. Thanks to social media and 24-hour news sources, we’re more informed and better able to discuss the American political system than ever before.

As grownups, we have our political opinions. Hopefully they’re formed by careful study, deep introspection and practicality. As a general rule, my husband and I don’t discuss politics in public, and that includes Facebook. To us, it’s just one of those things (like religion or income) that we prefer to keep to ourselves and close family and friends.

Part of that close family is our kids. My husband and I both grew up in homes where politics were part of the family discussion. I was the only child in my elementary school who voted the Libertarian ticket in the school’s 1988 mock election. I can still remember them reading the results over the school intercom: “George H.W. Bush, 298 votes. Michael Dukakis, 413 votes. Ron Paul, one vote.”

My husband remembers singing campaign songs, going to poll-watchers meetings and gathering with other families in the neighborhood to watch election returns.

As parents, it’s important to us to teach our kids about the political system. We want them to be engaged in their world.

Our oldest, a seventh grader, hears a lot at school and comes home with questions. Peers exert a strong influence, and there have been arguments at school about presidential candidates.

She understands that in an election year the fact that people don’t always agree with one another becomes more pronounced, and we’re careful to explain our own opinions as just that: Our opinions. “We think this, and this is why” is a phrase we use a lot. We want to have an honest, inclusive talk with her about politics without pushing our own agendas. If she disagrees with us, we don’t tell her she’s wrong. We ask her to provide reasons supporting her opinion.  

It's a mixed blessing, but she just happens to be part of an extended family with varied political leanings that simply adores a good debate. She needs to be ready to defend herself.

With our littlest one, however, we’re dealing with a more concrete thinker. He’s not interested in much more than simple, concrete questions requiring simple, concrete answers. Here’s hoping he’ll be ready to talk politics by 2016.

I scouted around for some tips regarding talking to kids about politics, and I found these (that I really like) on kidshealth.org:

  • Keep it positive. In the heat of an election season, strong feelings about tough issues can spark disagreements. Use the opportunity to show kids how to voice differences of opinion with respect, strength, and conviction. Say what you don't like about a candidate or his or her position and explain what you do like about your candidate of choice. Encourage your kids to do the same. Focus on the positive attributes of your candidate — talk about what you're for and your kids will too.
  • Be reassuring. Perhaps kids are worried by what the candidates and others are saying about the economy or the job market. They might fear the family losing the house or a parent losing a job. Listen to their concerns and provide reassurance and perspective. If you're facing financial troubles, be honest and then tell your kids (in an age-appropriate way) what you're doing to handle the problem.
  • Suggest they get involved. Many kids are quite interested in — and concerned about — the issues facing the country right now. Taking action helps them feel empowered and effective and builds problem-solving skills. Help kids think of what they can do. Talk about how small things can add up to make a big difference. Perhaps to save money, they'll want to make lunches instead of buying them at school. Or, if the environment is of particular concern, maybe they'd like to find ways to help the family "go green" at home. Let your kids know that just like voting for a candidate can make a difference, so can working toward an issue that you'd like to change.

Do you talk politics with your kids? Why is it important to you? How do political discussions happen in your family?

Jennifer Silas February 24, 2012 at 07:31 PM
This one is important to me. I feel really strongly that the right to vote is a right hard fought for and hard earned. Women should watch "Iron Jawed Angels" to get just some idea of what it took to earn this right. I have two girls and I want to impart upon them the importance of this right-as well as the importance of using it well, being educated and voting with purpose. I have been disgusted by friends over the years who have said "My dad said to vote for X, so I'm voting for X." or "My husband won't let me read that book because he's not really an american." I feel shame for them. But I also don't want to impose my thoughts on my kids. Of course i hope they grow up to think the same way that I do, because I think I am right, and I want them to be right too! But I want them to come by these thoughts honestly. I can recall being a a festival and not letting them have a free balloon from a campaign booth. My reason? they can't vote yet, and they are too young to know what that balloon says. I would rather buy a politic-free balloon. But alas I know that I am not like all parents. I know that I am hated for my political views, children have been taught to hate by their parents. It makes me very sad.
Agnes Nutter February 27, 2012 at 03:14 PM
One thing that Joe Biden said in his speech at the DNC convention in 2008 really resonated with me. Basically, he said that in his 30 years in politics, he has learned never to question other people's motives. Challenge them on their ideas and positions, yes. Disagree with them on how they propose to solve problems, or what they identify as problems in the first place, absolutely. But there is no conspiracy to do evil. No one's motives are inhumane. That is a message I try to get through to my children, especially my oldest, that people have different priorities and different ideas about how to solve problems, but that doesn't mean the people we disagree with are bad people. I also try to reassure them that political campaigns involve a lot of fear-mongering, and a lot of zealous rhetoric, but if you look behind that rhetoric, none of the candidates will or can do anything that would make our lives much different than they are now. And I also point out why that is a problem. :)

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