Your kids know about the elections. They have heard teachers talk. Their friends are repeating jokes that their parents made about the candidates. It is very likely that your child’s perspective and values are being influenced and shaped as a result of this election, so I want to help you get ahead of the game and use this election season to positively impact the life of your child.
This election cycle reminds me of when my younger brother and I shared a room as kids. On the opposite side of the wall that our bunk beds were against was a TV in my parent’s room. I could hear the TV through the wall as I fell asleep. I remember shaking in my bed as I listened to the news about the violence in the world, the natural and political disasters happening. How do we help kids through this?
If it were not for my parent’s intentional and consistent effort to both live out their faith and instill values in me I would probably have never overcome the fear that the news and political candidates often incite. My parents did not hide me from the reality of the world; instead they helped me wrestle with it in the context of my faith.
I want to give you a few things you can do to help use this election season to positively impact the life of your child. It can feel overwhelming to figure out how we help kids walk through complicated issues, but if you take just a small step today you will be making a significant investment into who they become.
1. Remember that how you respond shapes how they respond.
This principle is simple. Your tone, your words, your body language are all being watched by your kids. If you respond with respect, your kids learn how to show respect when it’s difficult. If you respond with hope, you will help them take their faith seriously. How you respond influences how your kids respond.
“Here he goes again… telling me that I need to get my life together!”
Actually, not entirely... While how you initially respond is important what is most impactful is how you follow-up when you respond poorly. There is no expectation for you to be perfect, but to at least be honest when you realize your response was not right or healthy.
These are just a few sentences that can leave a positive impact on your child, but they take a courageous parent to do it. If you speak disrespectfully about a politician or treat someone poorly that disagrees with your viewpoint go back to your kids and be honest, “You heard me say ________ and that was not the right thing for me to say. I was not being a good example. Would you forgive me?”
2. Ask your kids what they think.
Begin the conversation with hearing what your child already thinks. You might be surprised by how the wheels have already been turning in their mind. You are not here to lecture them about how they need to think, but to listen. It doesn’t matter if their friends, teacher or another parent already told you what your child thinks; your child needs to see that you care.
Here are some possible questions you can use to start the conversation (and make sure they feel like it’s a conversation not an interrogation):
- If you could vote today who would you vote for?
o Why would you vote for them? (Let them give an honest answer, if it’s a silly reason, don’t mock it. You are simply listening – seeking to understand.)
- What have your friends been saying about Hillary or Trump?
o What do you think about them?
- Are there any issues that are important to you? (Explain what you mean by issues if they don’t already know)
o Why are they important to you?
3. Have a conversation about your family's’ values.
After you have listened to your child’s thoughts, bring the conversation to values. This is an opportunity for you to speak to what values are important for your family. The end goal is that your child would have a personal relationship with Jesus and so give them guidance on how they can live out that faith. Try not to feed them sound bites or personal opinions, help build a foundation by having a conversation about values.
Do you believe in freedom? Talk about why. Share the history that you remember. Talk about why freedom is important to you. Ask your child what they think.
Do you believe in the sanctity of life? Open up the Bible. Focus on instilling the value, don’t get lost in the politics of it (sometimes we have to say less so they hear more).
Whatever values are core to your family, discuss them, but keep pointing back to the importance of having our lives founded in and beliefs shaped by a personal relationship with Jesus.
Be careful to not be reactive if they say something you disagree with. You are not going to argue them into your belief set. If you end the conversation now, you might be ending the possibility of having a conversation later. The important thing to establish is that they can talk with you about complex issues.
4. Help them learn to de-code what people say.
Politics are complex. Life is messy. Let’s use this political season to help our kids learn to de-code what people are trying to say. As your are driving in the car turn on the radio, listen, then turn it off and discuss what they were saying.
Talk about how they are using the tone of their voice. Talk about the emotions they are using or trying to get you to feel. Talk about the music in the background. Talk about why they invited a certain person to interview as a guest on the show. Give them the opportunity to see that they cannot just accept sound bites, that there is more to the story.
The election season is going to only get increasingly messier and complicated as we approach November, so keep the conversation open. Follow-up. You may not have hours to spend discussing the topic, but you can make use of the moments in the car, the conversation at the dinner table or the moments of banter as you watch TV.
You don’t need the answers. You don’t need to be perfect. You simply need to start the conversation. You can take a step today to positively influence your child’s future.