Undoubtedly, there has never been a more turbulent election year. As the country still wades through the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid racial and ethnic inequities still piling onto structural racism, this election runs deep – and differently – for everyone.
Children, in fact, can pick up on political banter and news soundbites, often leaving them unsure about what they are hearing or about what it means.
It is important that parents and educators provide children the tools they need to understand politics respectfully, and age appropriately.
Here are some helpful tips on how to help your children understand politics respectfully.
Discuss Each Candidate’s Platform
While parents of middle and high school students might be able to have more in-depth, political conversations together, it’s never too early to begin talking to young children about current events, including the election. Teachers and parents can find news sources like TIME for Kids, Scholastic Kids Press or KidsPost – a section of the Washington Post written especially for students in grades 2 through 7. Each of these websites is specifically designed with young age groups of children in mind.
Discuss the Idea, Not the Person
As adults, we see this all the time lately. Discussing politics can drop on a dime and suddenly turn into name calling rather than discussing the idea. From the time children enter school, they are taught to respect one another and be kind. The same, basic principle should apply to having a political conversation with a child. Adults and parents can reinforce this by demonstrating respect for each political candidate.
Engage in Dialogue, Not Debate
In a typical debate, there is usually a winner and loser. Many middle and high schools even have a debate team where students learn about presenting a strong argument backed up by facts. But, when it comes to talking about politics with children, educators and parents should encourage children to share their ideas by simply having a conversation – or an open dialogue. When we help children discuss politics, there is no winner or loser. Let’s leave the debates to the actual candidates.
Find the Middle Ground
Parents and educators can model political conversations, whether at home or in school, by talking to children about the point-of-view of each political party. Then, demonstrate the process by which each side can find middle ground on the issues. With elementary age children, beware of the ads on the radio or television that may promote campaign style bullying. Political parties calling one another names will deter a child of any age from finding common ground with each other. Older children can learn to find common ground between party lines by fact checking on websites such as factcheck.org.
Since we are more inclined in a conversation to focus on the disagreements than the areas where we agree, to find middle ground, students could make it their goal to find areas of agreement about ideas.
The realization that you can agree with someone on a topic while also disagreeing at the same time lends itself to finding a middle ground. Point out the areas of commonality and then move to the areas where there is disagreement. By starting a conversation this way, you are changing the tone and goal from being about winning to being about learning.
Exposing children to politics does not have to be a daunting experience. At the end of the day, it is about being respectful of all points-of-view, thinking about both sides of each topic and wading through the rhetoric towards a middle ground. With the election right around the corner, there is no time like the present to keep open lines of communication with children and to be readily available to steer them in the right direction.
Nicole Johnston, Oak Knoll’s History Department Chair, contributed to this blog post.