Election Day is here. Unlike any other Election year, people living in the United States of America have been waiting for this one with utmost anticipation. Some companies have cancelled meetings and made the time available for people to process the event. It is no surprise that this Election is a critical one and everyone is on edge.
I am a mom to two boys and I find this hard. So if you are a parent, teacher or child-care provider I see you. How do we help our kids and talk to them about the Election? Here are a few techniques that have worked for me.
Speak honestly and sincerely
Remember kids are watching us, all the time. They can see how we react to the news and what conversations we are having with our friends. The first step in engaging in a healthy conversation about the Election is to speak sincerely. Identifying our own emotions and mentioning things clearly like, ‘I am a little anxious about the Election’, can go a long way. Children are constantly reading their parents’ cues and any sign of tension will seem to them that it is because they did something wrong. So it is essential to name those difficult emotions.
Be the fact-checker
While my mantra has been to be honest about the situation I know that kids of different ages must be exposed to varying amounts of information. The best way to go about it is to not to keep the radio or TV channel running. It will allow us to fact-check the particulars of the news that we, as a family, can be exposed to. Always remember, you know your child the best. So be the judge of which narratives your children can or cannot take from the media.
For kids that are older talk to them about the ads they see on social media, help them make sense of it. On the other hand Bad Kitty for President by Darienne Stewart is a great book to read with elementary kids. Find more age-appropriate resources here.
Listen and respond
The best conversations are when we listen. We can start with questions like – ‘What have you heard or read about the Election?’ ‘How are you feeling?’ We can even start the conversation by mentioning, ‘This is a big day, I am feeling anxious. How about you guys?’
Then engage in active listening. What I mean by that is, make eye contact and do not downplay their concerns or judge how they are feeling. The best responses, most of the time, are when we make a safe space for our children to share confidently and without any repercussion. As Jody Baumstein, a licensed therapist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life, points out, “Your goal here is to let your child walk away knowing, ‘My parents understood where I was coming from.’”
Make it a lesson in history
I invite you to see this as a learning opportunity. Explain to your children what an Election is. We are building the next generation of empowered citizens and we can give them the tools by teaching them the basic facts about civics, geography and history. Remember to not avoid talking about the hard parts of the history. If we want to teach them to build a better community we have to encourage them to learn about the failures as much as the successes of a system. Kid are curious, allow them to be so. There may be questions where we may not have the answer immediately. In that case let’s lead with this, ‘I don’t know that, let’s find out.’ Imagine how great it is when all of this turns into a great exploratory project of discovering about the country that the next generation are growing up in and hopefully will lead one day.
Teach how to disagree respectfully
Today’s kids are tomorrow’s voters. Explain to your younger ones why why voting is important, and why it is an important civic tool. Start with simple examples of voting, like choosing the president of the school student council or the captain of the sports team. ‘Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress’, is one of the famous quotes of Mahatma Gandhi. But to disagree in a tolerant way is a critical lesson that we can teach our little humans. Emotions are running high right now and no matter which side we are on, this is a perfect time to mentor our kids on how to keep the emotions in check and have a logic-based debate supported by facts. This is easier said than done but absolutely necessary in a democracy, and the citizens that will uphold that are the little humans who are right now eating sugary cereal on our kitchen counters.
Voting is a right and a privilege. To vote is to voice your opinion in the most respectful way. It is not too early to talk to our kids about the power to vote.