Politics and the Teachable Moment
How you can use this crazy election to help create thoughtful citizens of the future
By Denise Daniels
I’m hardly the first to say that this has been one of the most unpredictable—even downright strange—presidential campaigns I’ve ever experienced. In fact, we’ve seen a pretty depressing picture of democracy at work. So how do we explain all of this to the children in our lives—and what can we say that will help them become active and responsible participants in our political process when they get older?
I suggest using this moment to focus on teaching your grandchildren the tenets of citizenship and civility: treating other human beings fairly, with respect and decency. These are the lessons that will not only serve them well during election years, but that will also help them create a more just and civil society throughout their lives. But rather than sit a child down for a lecture (I think we all know how successful those are!), I would offer this wisdom in response to children’s questions. For example:
“Who are you going to vote for?”
Whether you choose to answer this question with specifics is up to you—but the most important component of this answer is why. We want children to understand the importance of participating in democracy thoughtfully and with care. Choosing a candidate means considering what that person believes about our country, what he or she plans to do to make our country strong, and how he or she plans to help all citizens thrive. For smaller children, use the metaphor of a principal leading a school; with older kids, ask them how they’d run the country if they were in charge!
“Why do they say such mean things about each other?”
From an early age, we tell our children to “be nice,” yet the grown-ups they’re seeing don’t seem to be acting very nice. Explain that when people are competing, they sometimes say very harsh things—but that it is so important that we treat others with kindness, even when we’re on different teams or when we don’t agree with each other. Starting in your own home, show kids how to listen to other people and how to disagree with respect. If they play sports, insist on good sportsmanship—no bragging in victory, no sulking in defeat, and never taunting or belittling other players.
“Why would anyone be a politician? Nobody likes them!”
Explain that most people become politicians because they want to help make their communities better. And even though the loud, angry voices make the news, most politicians are appreciated and well-liked! Politics is just the most visible form of community service—but anyone, even children, can discover the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from helping others or making their community better. Small children love being given tasks to do that they can manage, such as putting sandwiches inside lunch bags for distribution at a local soup kitchen. Older kids can help pick up trash during a beach clean-up or join a civic pride event.
Try to set a positive example of thoughtfulness, respect, and community service. Your grandchild will grow up understanding that this is what good citizens do.
Denise Daniels, founder of JellyJam Entertainment, developed The Moodsters, a new children’s brand designed to teach kids the fundamentals of feelings. Denise is a Peabody Award-winning broadcast journalist, author, and parenting and child development expert who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.
Her workbooks have reached more than 15 million children and her clear, simple advice has helped parents on several national TV programs from Oprah to the TODAY show. For more about Denise, go to www.denisedanielsparenting.com
“Through my work with thousands of families around the globe, I’ve discovered that kids’ emotions are universal and that kids everywhere thrive when they are able to understand and manage their feelings!” – Denise Daniels