Real Leaders

How to Speak to Your Kids When Politics Gets Violent

2021 kicked off with a lot of promise for change. But Instead, there has been a devastating roller coaster of emotions as we watched violence at our Capitol and the President’s impeachment vote. Recent events in the news have captivated us, keeping us monitoring our devices almost constantly. This has been difficult for many adults to comprehend and even more troubling to explain to children.

The current news cycle is a continually varying schedule, and you never know when the new burst of emotionally-charged information will come. As B.F. Skinner theorized in introductory psychology this intermittent varying schedule creates the dopamine bursts in our brain, which creates the most intense change in our behavior, constantly checking our phone/news with emotional reactions.  

This whole Trump-Biden transition news cycle has us neurochemically swinging from up to down and left to right. And our children are watching our reactions. I have two daughters who are 8 and 10 years old. When they saw me shocked and angry, I did not dismiss my feelings. Instead, I said:

 “Yes, I am upset right now! Emotions can be like a storm, but I am the anchor on the bottom of the sea. Emotions go up and down, but they will pass. You don’t need to worry about me, as I am an adult that can understand that some people can make bad choices. I believe in this country and its power to heal.”  

My oldest daughter asked why our own President would tell people to do bad things when she learned about the storming of the Capitol. It’s vital for me to tell her how violence is never the answer and that a democracy depends on voters and their decisions. I like to put it into perspectives that children can understand—for example, learning how to accept defeat. This can be compared to things that happen in school, losing in sports, or getting a bad grade. It’s about learning to make the best out of losing. Bottom line: Peaceful transitions of power are necessary to democracies, and the people who stormed the Capitol were wrong.

It’s important we model good behavior for our children and not become consumed with the news. I always recommend teaching different lessons, depending on the comprehension and emotional maturity of the child. 

So, what are ways parents can help children process political events?

●     Disconnecting and using this time to educate will be beneficial. Explain our legal system. The rioters involved in the violence displayed at the Capitol have consequences and will be held accountable in the eyes of the law. Their actions went against the law and put other people in danger, and law enforcement was called to put their lives on the line to protect them. Parents can show how using violence is not the answer, goes against your family values, and is less effective than communication. 

●     Starting at a young age, you can explain the importance of communication skills. Approaching uncomfortable situations or topics can be difficult, but it helps to do so in a calm manner. Showing an example using “I think” and “I feel” statements and avoiding the use of “you,” which can direct blame. This will help children see how critical thinking can diffuse a heated discussion and be more effective than resorting to violence when there is a difference of opinions.

●     Living in a democracy means that we vote in elected officials based on our values and candidates that represent our desired goals for our country. This system has two parties, which means that sometimes a candidate we do not vote for is elected. It is still important to respect the system and try to focus on the positive. We live in a country with a democracy, which means that there are systems in place to protect the people’s choices. This also means that there should be a peaceful transition of power when a new candidate is officially elected. 

Children learn by watching their parents, so it is pivotal that we lead by example and model positive behaviors and values. We have the opportunity to educate youth that violence does not solve problems. Always spin things to the positive with children- this is the key to a happy life. There is a lot of hope for the new administration. This year will include the first female Vice President of the United States. What an incredible role model for my girls. My children learned a hard lesson about when leaders fail us. We often learn the most poignant lessons from defeat and mistakes, and for my children and our country, this is no exception.   

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