How to Talk to Your Kids About the Election

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A mom friend stopped me last week to ask me how to handle “election questions” from her first grade daughter. Apparently the election is the hot topic at recess, and her daughter is coming home with all kinds of misinformation and upsetting questions.

Clearly this election season is a stressful one, and emotions are heated. But this isn’t the first time kids will pick up bits and pieces of world news that don’t quite add up on the playground, and it certainly won’t be the last.

I will never forget the time that my daughter came home from kindergarten and declared New York City unsafe for visiting because “people fly rockets into tall buildings there.” Another child enlightened her about 9-11 that day.

Kids tell stories including some fact and some fiction because they’re trying to make sense of the world around them. They pick up on all kinds of conversations: Hushed whispers at the dinner table, one-sided phone calls, and quick chats with other parents on the playground (to name a few.) You might think the kids are to busy playing to listen, but most young children are able to sense stress among adults. When they sense that something is wrong, they get to work as mini detectives to uncover the truth. The problem, of course, is that they don’t always get to the whole truth.

How do you talk to little kids about big issues? Very carefully. Try these strategies to get you started.

Check your bias.

We all have our own beliefs and we all have our own agendas. That’s the beauty of living in this wonderful country of ours. The flip side is that we also need to respect the opinions, beliefs, and agendas of other people, be it our neighbors and friends or complete strangers.

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While it might feel natural to bash one candidate while talking up the other, it’s important to slow down and think about how a small child might process this. We tell them to respect and listen to others, but then we turn around and say unkind things about a public figure because we don’t agree with his or politics or behaviors. It’s important to keep our cool when discussing the election with our kids, and check our biases at the door.

Time for Kids put together a great feature that helps kids understand how each candidate plans to address specific issues. Read this with your kids to present an unbiased view of what each candidate brings to the table.

Teach your kids about the election process.

Adults know that it’s not as simple as voting on the big day. The electoral college, for example, can be a confusing concept, but it plays an important role in the election!

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Scholastic put together some wonderful resources to help families navigate this process. With videos, games and all kinds of information at your fingertips, talking about the election will be a breeze!

Encourage curiosity.

Your kids will hear things, and some of those things will be inaccurate while other things will make you feel uneasy because of your own beliefs. It’s important to encourage curiosity.

It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t know” when you don’t have the answer to a question, but be sure to make the time to look up the answer together. When parents encourage kids to ask, kids come to parents with their concerns and worries.

Keep it kid friendly.

The most important thing parents can do is to remain kid friendly when discussing the election as a family. Consider both the chronological age and the emotional development of your child and use child friendly terminology.

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I always encourage parents to keep this kind of talk honest but brief. Bite sized information is easy for kids to digest and encourages them to ask questions and engage in meaningful discussion.

What do you think?

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Election

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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