We’re told there are two things we don’t talk about in life: politics and religion. The only problem is, this “rule” sets us up for failure when these topics come up in conversation. Inevitably, most of us don’t know how to talk about them in a healthy way.
Children are exposed to endless amounts of information in our connected world. As parents, it’s our responsibility to prepare our kids to be good citizens. We can help them learn how to talk about sensitive topics like politics.
My wife and I have done a lot of research, trial, and error to figure out how to productively approach the conversation about politics with our elementary-age kids. Here are 6 tools we’ve used along the way and would like to share with you:
1. Decide your children’s intake.
With younger children, parents play the role of gatekeepers. While we can’t control what they hear at school, we can shield them from much of what the media shares. They haven’t entered the world of social media yet. When it comes to parenting and politics, we can choose how much information our children receive.
Remember, kids are sponges. They hear everything and will repeat what they hear even if they don’t have the facts straight.
2. Frame the political discussions within your family values.
As you discuss politics with your children, frame the conversation within your family values. Some of our values are kindness, humility, and honesty. Ask your kids questions that reflect your values.
- Does this feel true to you?
- Was that a kind thing to say or do?
- Do you think that person cares more about themselves or others?
- Do you think this person is a good leader?
I’m astonished at the way my 5 and 8-year-olds think. They see the character traits of others and are quick to call them out. They keep us on our toes, for sure.
3. Teach your children about citizenship.
As citizens, we have a responsibility to be engaged in government. This is the foundation of our government system. Talk to your kids about what it means to be a good citizen. Start with the local level. Teach them about what the city council, school board, and mayor do. Help them understand how citizens can be part of the political process.
4. Talk about the issues, not politics.
Focus on the issues. What’s important to your family? I have a newfound interest in who is on the school board and their decisions since I have kids in elementary school. Help your children identify the issues and see where each side stands. Discuss the pros and cons together.
5. Avoid the ugliness of politics.
Let’s face it; we all celebrate when elections are over because we’ve been overwhelmed with endless political ads. While election season can be especially ugly, it doesn’t end there. Remember, you control how much exposure your child has to politics. Be diligent in keeping them away from the name-calling. With the internet and social media at our fingertips, we have a full spectrum of news sources (not to mention family and friends). Remember—you’re the gatekeeper.
6. Help your children form their own opinions.
As parents, we have the responsibility of raising adults. I want my children to contribute to society and influence others. Present the facts to your kids and help them form their own opinions.
We’re often heavily influenced by our parents’ views and beliefs. This isn’t bad, but we have the opportunity to help our kids process what’s important to them.
Remember to focus on values and issues. A lifetime of decisions and information influences your political stance. Your children don’t have that wealth of information, but you can help them decide based on values.
Don’t fear talking about politics with your kids. It’s a part of everyday life, whether you’re talking about your mayor and city council or the President and Congress. The conversation is ongoing. Give them room to ask questions as well. Encourage their curiosity.