The election season is one fraught with tension and anxiety for many people, and children can start asking questions or feel the stress from others. Though they may not fully know what is going on in the political sphere, they are more aware of societal tension than adults may realize. Often, their knowledge may be skewed, causing more anxiety than it should because of the media.
That’s why talking to your children about the election is so important. Being open with them about the election in a calm manner can help them manage their anxiety on top of concerns about the pandemic and social justice.
A 2016 survey conducted by Care.com explored some of the factors that influenced parents to talk to their children about politics. The findings included:
- 30% of parents begin discussing politics with their children between 6 and 8 years old
- 27% begin when they are between 9 and 12 years old
- About 40% of children ask about politics to their parents
- About 46% of parents talk to their children about politics
- Almost 90% of parents who don’t talk to their children believe their kids are too young to understand
It may seem like a difficult subject to bring up, especially if your child doesn’t mention it, but parents should check in with age-appropriate questions to gauge how aware your children are of what’s going on. For example, you can ask: “What have you heard? What questions do you have? What worries you?”
There are plenty of resources out there to help parents initiate conversations about politics and voting with children and teens. To help you get started, here are 8 tips on how to talk to your child about the election.
1. Explain why voting and the election is important in our government.
It’s a great way to introduce the idea of democracy to younger children. It may be a little more challenging to talk about political parties, especially if you feel strongly about it. However, emphasize that, though voting and politics may be stressful, it is vital to use our voices to help create and change laws in our country and assist leaders in making decisions.
2. Create a space for kids to express their feelings honestly.
Rather than using it as a time to lecture them about how the election works, allow your children to openly express themselves without shutting them down, even if what they say may be emotionally upsetting for you. If you find it challenging to stay calm discussing specific topics, take a step back, acknowledge your feelings, and return to the conversation when you feel more in control and can model calm behavior.
3. Be mindful of how much information they’re receiving from media.
The various messages your children receive from the news and social media can cause them more significant stress and anxiety. Limit their exposure if necessary, and make sure they know the facts, not the rumors or gossip.
4. Help kids understand why politics gets people upset.
Seeing adults disagree so passionately can scare kids and make them feel anxious. Explain to them that the reason behind the anger or stress in adults around the election is often fear and strong beliefs about certain things. Remind them that it is okay to be angry and upset, but it is not okay to be unkind to others.
5. Discuss values.
The election provides a perfect avenue to discuss the values you and your family hold important. Help children understand the importance of what you believe and why. Allow them to ask questions and look for those teachable moments on how to converse respectfully with those who may disagree.
6. Be honest about the sensitivity of politics.
Kids may not understand that politics is a sensitive topic that can spark strong feelings. Teach them how to talk about it respectfully in the safety of your home. Help them become more aware of how others might react and prepare them for any difficult conversations they might have with their peers.
7. Encourage them to think for themselves.
While it may be difficult to be unbiased about certain political issues, encourage your children to think critically and form their own opinions. Even if it’s at an elementary level of understanding, supporting your child to think for themselves will help them make sense of their world and boost their independent problem-solving skills.
8. Keep the conversation open.
While the election is only for one season, politics still continues. Make room for your children to ask questions when they come up and encourage them to talk to you about any worries, confusion, or other feelings they may have regarding the election.