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Family Matters

How to talk to your children about the presidential election

With a 24/7 media cycle and an overload of social media, it is getting harder to shield our children from the negativity of this year’s presidential election. I used to work as a news producer both here locally and in Washington, but I am very careful about what my children see or hear when it comes to news; however, sometimes it is just unavoidable.

This presidential election cycle has received a lot of air time, and most of it has not been positive. It seems the media is focusing less on the candidates’ issues and more on the negative attacks, which can be confusing for young children.

I was recently driving a carpool of second-grade boys and somehow the conversation turned to the presidential candidates. These boys had a lot of opinions about who should win and why. Our children are like sponges and soak up what they hear. At a young age they most likely will echo their parents’ views, but it is never too early to teach children how to make informed decisions, about the importance of voting, and being an active part of the democratic process. But how do you do this in an age-appropriate way? Here are some tips on how to make this election cycle a fun and teachable moment:

TALK ABOUT THE ISSUES

As a family, a great starting point is to talk about the issues that are important to you. We recently did this with our children, and I was amazed at their answers. My 10-year-old daughter was concerned that we have never had a woman president. My 8-year-old son was concerned about gun violence and homelessness.

These were great places to start, and I was able to explain that one of the key factors in choosing who to vote for is finding someone who cares about the same issues you do and has meaningful ideas on how to improve those issues. Then you can ask your children what their ideas are. One of my favorite questions is, “If you were president and could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” Depending on the age of your children, the answers will be simple and probably something that affects their daily life. This is a great way to get them thinking about issues and becoming engaged in their own solutions.

DO THE RESEARCH

A great resource I recently discovered is the website election.scholastic.com. A great place for research and information, the site features candidate profiles, explanations of the process, and kids can even participate in polls on issues they care about. The site also features news reports by kids ages 10 to 14 — a welcome alternative.

Researching the candidates and where they stand on different issues can be a good time to talk about the difference between fact and opinion. My son recently announced, “Hilary Clinton is not going to be a good president because she wants to go to war with Russia”. When I quickly followed up asking where he had heard this, he said, “the bus driver.” Why the school bus driver decided to make this statement to a bus full of kids is another issue, but it did provide a great opportunity to explain to our son the difference between facts and opinions.

MAKE INFORMED CHOICES

It is important for children especially at a young age to understand that people around them, maybe even in their own family, may have differing opinions, and this is something everyone is entitled to. The most important thing we can teach our children is how to respect those around us even when they have a different opinion. We can be an example and keep it positive — even if the candidates themselves are not. Discuss what you like about the candidates and how when they start attacking each other they stop talking about the issues. Informed choices are based on what the candidates believe, not on what they look like or how they talk.

These tips cannot only be used to help our children, they are also a great reminder for us as parents and adults. The news cycle has catered to our short attention spans, so information is provided in snippets and sound bites, often with 140 characters or less. Take the time to dig in a little, research the issues you care about, and find out where the candidates stand. Then, get involved — grab a sign, go to a rally, or volunteer in a local campaign office. This is a wonderful example for our children and will teach them from an early age to get involved, be engaged, and maybe they will even run for office and make a difference one day.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Formerly, she was a television producer in Washington, DC and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]

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