In the best of years, emotions are heightened around presidential elections. This election feels especially difficult due to the tone and tenor of the race. Add this to a global pandemic with no end in sight, natural disasters that seem biblical at times, the heightened awareness to address systemic racism, stepping in to help educate our own children at times, and an economic downturn are creating an intensity that can be overwhelming to us all.
Nonetheless, our children and students turn to us to present these obstacles in a manner that feels solvable and achievable. If we present information in a kind, respectful, and factual manner it allows our children to practice thinking critically and learning how to make decisions based on the things they value. No matter the outcome of the election, as a school we will continue to live our mission and educate children who are willing and able to repair the world.
I’ve been researching how to navigate these stressful times with children and young adolescents and offer the following gleanings:
- Decrease time on social media. The bombardment of advertisements is overwhelming, so create time for yourself and your family to escape by doing mindfulness breathing exercises, reading together, or go for a family walk.
- Be aware that the little ears in your home and car are always listening. How you speak about candidates or the election will likely have an emotional impact on your child even if they do not understand the content of your comments. If you love listening to the news while driving, consider taking a break while the kids are in the car, as the news is not “easy listening” right now.
- Engage your children in conversations about the election by asking them what they already know. Clarify for them any parts of the election process that they might not understand. There are many children’s books that also explain the process, including Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty, Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel, Where Do Presidents Come From? by Mike Townsend, When You Grow Up To Vote by Eleanor Roosevelt, and Duck for President by Betsy Lewin and Doreen Cronin. A phenomenal online resource is PBS’s The Election Collection.
- Help children to understand political advertising that they see or hear and that the purpose of advertising is to sway viewers' opinions and influence their behaviors. Political advertisements often use propaganda tactics as scare-tactics, famous people, bandwagon slogans (ie. “everyone believes”), or selective statistics/data to try to influence voters. One great resource is propagandacritic.com.
- Discuss with your child how you make your choices for candidates or issues when you vote. Explaining your values, how you research your candidates, and which sources you deem trustworthy will open your child’s eyes to the seriousness with which you take your responsibility to vote.
- Ask your child what issues are important to them and why. This is a wonderful way to learn how your child is thinking about the world and constructing their knowledge. These conversations model civil civic dialogue, by listening carefully, asking clarifying questions, and being respectful in tone. Questions such as, “Could you tell me more?” or “Why do you think that?” help your child formulate their thinking and articulate their opinions more fully. Encourage your child to substantiate their opinions with facts and research those facts together. Teaching Tolerance provides a wonderful resource for teaching civil discourse that is perfect for home or school.
- Focus on the importance of the right to vote. Our country has a long and storied history of people struggling for the right to vote. Children’s books are wonderful resources for sharing these stories.
And as always, voting for your favorite candidate is the best way to alleviate the stress of the election.