3 ways to shape your conversations (and when to not have them at all).
When I was first approached to write a piece about talking politics with your children, I thought, “My kids are so little. I don’t talk to them about politics.”
But, that’s not entirely true. It’s part of our lives, whether we like it or not, and it’s part of our conversations, whether we realize it or not. I’m political, and I’m participating in the future by being a mother. I’m creating the next citizens of this country, maybe even leaders.
I am my daughters’ only source of information and reason, and will be for a long time. I am responsible to break their innocence, and my desire should be to see them grow into informed citizens of the world.
But when your kids are four or five -- or maybe even younger, how do you do that?
1. Age is an important factor when it comes to difficult conversations, because children need information at an age-appropriate pace. When I look into their trusting, pure faces, free from worry, and I think, “They are four and five.” There’s something spectacular about how little thinking there is to do as a child. It’s not a lack of imagination or curiosity. It’s thinking for the joy of it—play, wonder, dreams. I can barely remember that delicious freedom now; maybe I only recall it as I see it in my own children.
Back when I was a child, I didn’t have to think on the other things, the “stuff” of life, the worries that begin to plague our motivations and actions as adults. I had my parents to do that for me. I was warm and safe in their care, and in the beautiful world that they created exactly for me to be that. Home was a base, where questions could be asked with no consequences, and where I could take authority at their word.
This is the world I hope to recreate for my daughters: Home is the stress-free zone, where, for as long as they need it to be, everything at home is right, the standard, and safe. But it is also a place where they should and can feel free to ask questions, and I am responsible for answering them.
2. Assigning value to a person’s head or political party doesn’t make sense to a child, but if you tell them to do so, they will. I did not go into the details of the presidential race or drop names with certain traits attached to them or even talk about the right vs. the left. Children are malleable, impressionable, and trusting. Because they count on us for their safety, for their bubble worlds (and because that’s a fair expectation in childhood), we should assume that they are watching, reflecting, repeating. But should we place that on them? What is politics anyway? Isn’t it a value system after all? And if it’s a value system, couldn't we approach their soft, learning hearts and minds from a different angle? One that doesn’t use judgment or fear or anger?
3. Don’t fear-monger. Instilling fear of what one leader or another will do if given too much power will do just that for your kid—scare them. Insisting on an us-versus-them mentality, pointing out the flaws, and using every opportunity for a soapbox will breed children who do the same—and who do so without the opportunity to form their own opinions yet.
Perhaps rather than worry about how my daughters view politics, it should start at how they view humanity. How they see the world. How they make choices that affect themselves, but learn to see the ripple effect on others. I want to give them the tools—education, kindness, giving-back, confidence—that they will, in turn, assimilate into their lifestyles, their choices, and their actions as working, law-abiding, voting adults some day.
Some day will come so, so soon. My work is important work, and I have to do it fast. But I will also cherish the time when I can work in an environment that is precious and free and safe. I will bask in gratitude for the years where concepts of speech and friendship and independence are pure, and so the opinions my daughters form around those ideas are yet untainted.
I am blessed with the chance to start anew and be reminded of goodness and feel hopeful, not divided, as I watch these young minds entrusted to me flourish with dreams for how the world could be. And right now, that’s all they need to know.