Dear Parent Coach,
We have a fair amount of arguing going on right now in our home over the presidential candidates. Based on overhearing their friends at school, our children (ages 13, 10, 8) are forming their opinions taken from playground chatter. At home, they’re chanting their candidate’s names (“Hillary, Hillary” or “No, the Donald”) and arguing about who’s best, causing disruption. It has turned into a unique type of sibling rivalry. We’re glad they’re interested, but we’d like to guide their enthusiasm in a more positive direction. We’d love some of your ideas.
Parents Policing Politics
Dear Policing Parents,
It is no surprise that your children have a heightened interest in what’s going to happen in this election. They are picking up the vibes not only in your home, but also from seeing and hearing information on TV, the covers of magazines and newspapers, and on the internet. The fallout from this election will be one your children will be reading about someday in a history book. They’re part of history in the making.
When it comes to politics, most children overhear their parents’ opinions, and tend to echo these in conversations with friends. Of course, in a family when one parent leans to the right and the other to the left, children hear opposing opinions and are not educated or mature enough to decide what they themselves believe.
Therefore, some children hop on the bandwagon of a good friend’s candidate, or base their choice on insignificant details like the kind of pets a candidate’s family has, or are impressed by a revelation in the media concerning a candidate’s personal life. Rarely is it about issues.
This innocent enthusiasm is mostly a young child’s attempt to be part of an exciting election year, especially as the debates are just beginning. Your children are old enough to watch some of the debates and perhaps learn a little more about the issues at hand, with your help, of course.
Since your children are so enthusiastic, turn this into a teachable moment — or month. A first lesson might be about how people can have differing opinions, but need to be respectful of one another at the same time. This will take some convincing, however, since this is the least respectful election of all time.
Even though your children are rooting for different candidates, they can learn to do so in a manner that isn’t argumentative. Perhaps instead of loudly chanting, they could each make a campaign sign for their candidate to put on their bedroom door.
The dinner table is a good place to have family discussions about what the current issues are. Parents can describe in simpler terms about the economy, health care, the Middle East conflict, taxes and how the candidates differ in these areas. Keep it basic and age appropriate.
Another interesting sidelight might be to explain what the qualifications are for a presidential run, and what the job entails. There are several good children’s books that report interesting details about past presidents and life in the White House.
The book, “So You Want to Be President?” points out the pros and cons of being president, such as never having to empty the trash (pro), but having to get dressed up every day (con).
Another charming book, “It Happened in the White House,” tells intriguing details about former presidents, such as Franklin Roosevelt building the first swimming pool, John Quincy Adams skinny-dipping at dawn in the Potomac River, and Abraham Lincoln’s son, Tad, setting up his lemonade stand at the entrance of the mansion as his pet goat, Nanny, wandered freely through the White House.
Parents can explain the election process as well, perhaps starting with the primaries and the political conventions, and culminating with Election Day every four years on the first Tuesday in November. If you feel up to it, try to explain the Electoral College. Your children could be very disappointed if their candidate gets more popular votes, but doesn’t actually win.
Those parents who take their children with them to the voting booth, allow budding voters to observe the process first-hand. At this time, a parent can explain what democracy means, and that not all countries have the privilege of choosing their leaders by voting.
Parents have a prime opportunity to instill renewed patriotism in their children. In spite of the foibles of our government, the human mistakes of our potential leaders and the differences of opinions between political parties, we are all fortunate to have inherited the incredible legacy of our founding fathers.
Parents, your children are blessed to be living and growing in the United States. Take the time to help them understand what a privilege this is.
And no matter who wins the election, Hillary or the Donald, we are still proud Americans, living in the greatest nation on earth.
1. Find children’s books about the presidency and election process. Read them with the family. (“Vote!” by Eileen Christelow)
2. Play a presidential trivia game based on the book, “Smart About Presidents” by Jon Buller.
3. Use family dinner time as a forum for children to be able to ask questions and learn to discuss respectfully.
4. The week before the election, ask your children to help you fly your flag outside.
5. On Nov. 6, make a red, white and blue dessert. Frost a rectangular cake white, and make it into a flag using strawberries and bananas for the stripes, and blueberries and star fruit for stars.
6. Other good book choices: “Abraham Lincoln,” by Ingri Parin d’ Aulaire, and “Meet George Washington,” by Joan Heilbroner.