ASK BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

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Q: My 8-year-old daughter overheard some family members say some harsh things about the election, and was upset. She had never heard her aunts and uncles be mean to someone before, and didn’t understand why this was OK. Is it too soon to start talking to her about
politics?

The antics and behaviors of the political election this year are certainly raising questions and issues for parents who have to explain it all to their children. We parents work hard to teach and model kindness, respect, empathy and acceptable behavior for our children.  So when fevers run high, when Uncle Harry reacts to Hillary with expletives or Aunt Susie spews invectives about Trump, when nastiness abounds, what’s a parent to do?

Children as young as 8 years old and even younger are being exposed to the crazy 2016 election and all the mud-slinging. It’s the talk of the town, as we all shake our heads in disbelief.  As is the case when a child is inadvertently exposed to something not meant for his eyes or ears, he needs help to process the event. The ostrich school of parenting will not work; no burying your head in the sand. The crassness of this political election is no exception.

Regardless of your particular opinion, your child deserves to hear a balanced perspective. But first of all, she needs to learn about the voting process, about democracy and why we go to the polls, and about how candidates get elected. She needs to hear that people all over this country have lots of different and often opposing views on the very same issues. And then the hard part begins, as you help her to digest what the heck is going on.

Depending upon your daughter’s development and interest, you can take this opportunity to explain your family’s strong beliefs and why they are (clearly) so frustrated by these candidates,

The trick is explaining free speech. Your daughter needs to hear your belief that while people are allowed by law to speak their minds, it is important that you discuss your opinions in a respectful way.

When children first learn that grown-ups sometimes behave badly, make mistakes, use bad language, say mean things and are disrespectful, it’s a real shocker. When it’s a relative or someone who she knows and respects, it’s even harder for a child to swallow, as she sees her people as “the good guys.”  But she will learn this reality of life, even though you had hoped it would be later rather than sooner.

In explaining that all people step off course once in a while, we need to also to emphasize that, especially with family, we usually don’t stop loving a person because of a misstep he has taken. He might lose some of our respect, but we don’t cut the cord. Children apply what they observe to themselves, so we certainly don’t want our kids to fear that they will lose our love when they might go temporarily south with unkindness or bad language.

This is the epitome of a teachable moment. Not only do you have the chance to teach about our system of democracy, but you have the opportunity to discuss freedom of speech.  To your mind, that freedom may allow you speak your opinion, but you believe there are kinder, more respectful ways to do so.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren,
so far.