Dear anyone trying to understand how to talk to their kids about the elections,
As Americans we have the privilege to vote. With that privilege comes responsibility – a responsibility to use our voices by voting our choice as participants in our democracy.
We also have a responsibility to educate our children. There is no magic formula or manual to ease the frustration, confusion, fear, and the millions of other emotions rolled into and out of an election, especially during a time of a pandemic. If we are feeling the intensity and the fear of the current political climate, can you imagine what our kids are feeling? I feel the concern 1000% as a parent. If we ignore how our children feel and do not honor their thoughts, questions and feelings and do not have open communication with them we are doing them an injustice. We need to teach them that their voice matters and how to use it.
No one imagined our country, The United States of America, would be in just a state of uproar and fatigue. BUT, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? WE ARE GOING TO TALK TO OUR KIDS.
Apples do not fall far from the tree. What do I mean by that? If you are freaking out about the elections, then so are they! If you are having anxiety, they are picking it up. Sure, you might say you are fine, but are you really? You may not talk about the election as a negative, but are you talking disrespectfully about candidates or the state of the country? Are they hearing the uncertainty and banter?
I am not saying concern or worry is bad, and yes, our kids have to deal with reality! I am just saying no matter your kid’s age, they pick up on things and act as a direct reflection of what is going on in their world. Have you seen a mirror?
My grandma Marion would say, in her heaviest New York Jewish accent, “a child is a product of their environment.” She would then flick her wrist and shoo you away. Brush it off like it was no big deal. Like duh, if the parents are a mess, the kid is a mess- it is not rocket science! Look, I am not saying this is the case in every family and that there are not parents that are chill but the kids are experiencing anxiety and/or vice versa. I am just saying if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!
PARENTS: MANAGE YOUR OWN ANXIETY!!
Again, really check in with yourself. How are you, the parental role model or parent dealing with this whole situation, before you go freaking out about how your kids are doing?
Then, let’s discuss how to talk to your kids once you have yourself in check. Let me also say, if you are worried or in a state of panic about the current status of the pandemic and/or election, remember that there were also crises when we grew up. And guess what, we all survived it and we survived our parents through it and your kids will survive you and this also! Don’t go beating yourself up how you have dealt with it all thus far! You’re not a crappy parent. In fact it is the opposite. You are rocking parenthood because the only thing you are at fault for or guilty of is loving your child/children and having an interest in their well-being. Of course momma and pappa bear are going to do whatever it takes to protect our cubs. Let’s just put any ounce of guilt or shoulding (should have done it better or differently) aside.
So, how do we talk to our kids?
As we know, no two kids are the same- bio individuality! There is no script or any perfect way to do this! You cannot talk to two kids in the same house, the same class, or the same age the same way. You most certainly can’t talk to kids of different ages the same.
- Know your child.
- Know what their level of communication and comprehension is.
- Ask them questions about how they feel.
- Ask them questions of what they understand.
- Ask them their opinion.
- Ask them what they think.
- Gauge where they are at.
- Look them in the eye when talking to them.
- Express your concerns in one sentence. I feel ____ because_____.
- Talk to them how you want to be talked to.
The key in communicating with a child (of all ages, infant to 18 (adults too) is how you deliver the message. Remember, it is not what you say, but how you say it! If you start a conversation and you are fidgety, not speaking clearly, or don’t look your kids in the eyes- they hear your body language. If you have trepidations and anxiety about the election, your children will also. Kids are perceptive and intuitive, they detect and pick up on your energy. Kids have secret spidey senses that know what is going on before we do without spying on our texts messages!
- Be genuine and sincere and explain things at their level.
- Do not lie! I repeat, DO NOT LIE! Lying when you are teaching your kids to trust you and for them to be honest is worse than yelling at them to be quiet (like all of us have not done that, right?!?)
- Explain to them how it will play out in the end with play-by-play details as descriptively as you can. Incorporate how they will feel, what they will see. Use all their senses.
- Find a silver lining and make it be matter of fact in a way that any obstacle or disappointment ahead can’t not happen.
- Present it in a way that you believe it with conviction (even if you are apprehensive).
- Acknowledge that you understand how they may be feeling.
- Give your kids credit and tell them how proud you are for their expression and their voice. Throw some cookies. (Don’t literally throw food or reward positive behavior with food.) Get really excited about what you want more of from your kids (and get really excited for what kind of behaviors you want more of from yourself- PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH!)
- TAKE KIDS WITH YOU TO VOTE OR CREATE A WAY FOR THEM TO BE PART OF THE PROCESS! LET THEM HAVE OWNERSHIP!
Remember one last thing, when your child was born, whether you thought you had a clue or felt completely clueless about raising your child, you just did it. If you are reading this, you are further ahead of child rearing then you even think you are and your child is lucky to have you as you are to have them. More than any fancy schmancy shrink or mom advice I or anyone else can give you, you have something invaluable, special, and priceless. YOU LOVE YOUR CHILDREN. You can never love them too much. If all else fails or if all else succeeds, TELL THEM YOU LOVE THEM, HUG THEM AND KEEP TELLING THEM YOU LOVE THEM. Let them know that their voice matters. Squeeze them tight and remind them everything is okay NO MATTER THE OUTCOME OF THE ELECTION and how proud of them you are for using their voice.
Your no bull-shiFt, advice giving, VOTING ADVOCATOR/ RANTER, Mom, Psychologist and military wife, Dr. Dara