Q:It’s a big year for politics—and things are getting heated. What are appropriate ways I can speak with my 10- and 13-year-old girls about the presidential race, who have both shown mild interest in learning more?
Presidential election years always provide great fodder for lessons of all kinds. If schools were in session in-person, I promise you that the election would be a big part of your children’s curricula. I have seen these special school lessons every four years in the form of government teachings, classroom voting on a variety of decisions and leadership elections complete with platforms. But, alas, in this time of distance learning, who knows how it will be handled in school? I am crossing my fingers for creative and resourceful teaching on the horizon.
As a child development specialist, my area of strength is definitely not teaching civics! However, I would treat your daughters’ interest and curiosity the way I approach all questions from kids. That means, start by asking the girls what it is each would like to know, if you have seen a spark of curiosity. In so doing, you are able to clarify what each is wondering and answer those questions. “Are you wondering how someone grows up to be president?” or “Do you wonder about how the election works?” Answering the questions that children have makes their learning much more meaningful and likely to stick. Teaching or preaching something about which the kids have not shown interest is usually thankless.
During this time of distance learning, I have stressed over and over that, unless you are home-schooling (as opposed to distance learning), the parent’s job is to be a facilitator or a support to the school teachers. Very often when the parent tries to be the teacher, it backfires. The child is resistant and pushes back. You are her mother, not her teacher! Her teacher is a different person with a different job. And for sure children react differently to their teachers than to their parents.
I know your intentions are good. It is exciting to expose your child to things that are important and basic to our country’s smooth running. It would be tempting to start at the beginning, to tell the whole story. Maybe you’re thinking the Mayflower and the Pilgrims leaving England. Maybe it’s the Constitution. Or maybe you want to start with the branches of government. But I suggest not. I recommend you light their fires of interest by talking about what’s going on with THIS election. That is likely from where their interest is coming. This presidential election is flooding the media. It can’t be avoided. So perhaps you could talk about upon the candidates’ very different opinions about global warming or joblessness or the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a good idea to head toward a topic that they can understand.
I can say for sure, this election is presenting endless lesson material and table conversation topics, from the major issues mentioned above to modeling certain behaviors to honesty to what is a president’s responsibility, literally and figuratively. And it is so easy to dive into any of the daily torrents of “news” from and about the candidates. As spicey as this particular election is, it is no different than all of them. The mud is being slung. The closer to the election we get, the more heated and pointed and vitriolic it is. By the way, THAT is an important lesson in itself.
Parents of children of all ages will be finding ample material to discuss the closer we get to November. Dinner table conversations, heated or not, are great ways for children to learn and to expand their thinking and understanding of our election process.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through betsybrownbraun.com.
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