In my experience as a therapist treating children I was surprised by the frequent, thematic fear of war, scary news stories and a chaotic political environment. Yes, kids know what’s going on. They hear things we talk about, they overhear the news, their friends are talking about it too. Personally, I find myself feeling overwhelmed lately by the mountain of negative news, police shootings and Donald Trump doing or saying … well, anything really. Even worse, no matter which outlet I browse I cannot escape it! Twitter, Facebook, general Google searches all generate some horrific news story usually affecting innocent people and most definitely affecting my mood. The issues seem never-ending and solutionless.
I feel this way and I am an adult, trained in understanding and processing emotion. I wonder how much more difficult this would be for a child. They have worries just as we do and depending on their personality and disposition they may not be aware or open about it! Along with the politics of today come intense emotions that children may not know how to deal with such as fear, dread, confusion, anger, sadness etc. I thought it could be helpful to equip parents and caretakers with tools about how to approach these issues in a proactive way, instead of reacting to something your child may have overheard and is now having difficulty internally processing.
Approach your child: when in a neutral and non-overwhelming location (dinner table, driving somewhere etc) be the one to bring up the topic and give permission to ask questions and talk about it. Politics have become so intimidating we have to assume your child has heard someone say “I don’t talk about politics” .. ensuring this topic is safe to speak about with their parents is key to having an open, honest dialogue.
Ask your child: ask your child what they know about different terms like “politics”, “republican” “democrat” or if they know who certain political figures are. Ask with a genuine curiosity and don’t assume you know what they may say. This may reveal they know more than you’re comfortable with as their parent or they believe something that isn't true. If your child talks about feeling scared or uncertain about the future or their safety use plenty of reassurance. Reassure them they are loved, safe and (if this aligns with your values) that our country is protected by our military or by a spiritual figure your family believes in. Long-term feelings of unsafety prohibit brain growth in other areas and it’s our jobs as caregivers to create safety for our children.
Share with your child: If it feels right, share your thoughts/feelings and experiences with politics in a way that allows your child to ask questions that you are willing to answer. Remember to be comfortable because you set the tone for the conversation.
Offer openness in the future: let your child know they can ask questions about this topic in the future and you’re there to listen.
Ultimately, remember that this isn’t an easy topic to speak about openly and if you’re uncomfortable or at a loss for words that’s perfectly normal. Acknowledging this can be difficult may be the ice breaker needed to open up an honest exchange with you and your child. Feel free to leave a comment about your experience talking to children about politics!
In the spirit of realness,