It’s that time of year again when family and friends gather and engage in heated debates about politics—wait, I mean, share in the gift of food and thankfulness? Yup, Thanksgiving is around the corner. As we all know, Thanksgiving and politics go together like turkey and stuffing!
We all know that one uncle who can’t avoid bringing up politics, or that specific cousin who walked into the house dressed up as Devil’s Advocate. We know the debates and political conversations can’t be escaped, but what about the kids’ table? We hate to break it to you, but they are listening.
This is not to say you shouldn’t have the discussions; we merely recommend considering how you are engaging in these exchanges. Are you being a good role model? Have you prepared your children to engage in the conversation? Have you taught them how to listen to, dissect, and form their own opinions about the information at hand?
Here are a few ways you can prepare your children to both engage positively and proactively in the conversation any time of the year…and to survive the raised voices at the Thanksgiving table!
Don’t Avoid Talking About It
Whether or not you’re discussing politics at home—and unless your children never leave the house—they’re hearing about it. They’re hearing other kids talk at school, they’re watching TV, and they’re on the Internet. I think we all know that there really is no avoiding the topic these days! Instead of avoiding the topic, make it an open dialogue. Talk to your kids about what’s going on in the world, open the floor for questions, and encourage them to get involved, on what you consider an age-appropriate level.
Model The Art Of Listening
Show your children that there are two parts to every conversation—talking and listening. It’s not truly a conversation without both. Listening has its benefits. It’s a valuable skill that allows you to interpret what you are hearing, and to think critically about the information you are digesting. More often than not, being a good listener also disarms the other party. They feel listened to, their opinions valued, and will be more likely to do the same in return. It is when both participants are actively listening that a genuine, intelligent, and proactive conversation can take place. You may even change your mind. If you model this behavior at home, with friends, partners, and family, you are showing your children that political conversation or debate does not have to be a polarizing or partisan shouting match.
Support Your Claims
If you hold a very strong opinion, explain it to your children. Why do you feel the way that you do? What politics, platforms, or policies do you disagree with, and why? What are the reasons that you support a particular person or policy? What are the effects they have on our communities, country, and world? We expect children to back up their actions, opinions, and knowledge… why shouldn’t they expect the same from us? Show your children that a strong opinion should be backed by good, hard facts, and not just feelings. If we all acted on feelings, I don’t know if we’d all make it to Thanksgiving dessert!
If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…
It’s likely you have at least a few strong opinions when it comes to current events and politics. How we express those views can sometimes be less than flattering. It’s so easy to say something nasty about a politician, lawmaker, or candidate. We’re sometimes quicker to bash the opponent (that “other” candidate or someone opposing our own worldviews) than we are to focus on the positive qualities of our preferred candidate. Again, let’s show our kids that our opinions and views are not driven by our feelings, and we can’t do that if we can’t stop talking about how much of a loser that guy is, or how bad So-and-So looks in that dress. If our children hear us talking this way about people we don’t even know, how do you think that’ll translate over into their spheres?
Discuss Your Value Systems At Home
A lot of our stances, when it comes to politics, originate from our value systems and how decisions either reflect or affect them. Discussing value systems with our children provides context. Explain why you find these values to be important, but also provide perspective on different values. If your children have questions, answer them!
Politics are overwhelming enough for us adults, never mind the kids! If we explain politics on a local level, we can break down the subject into more relatable terms. Take the time to discuss how politics affect our average day-to-day life. Get involved in the community—you don’t need to run for mayor, or even the aldermanic board, to get involved, either. Something as simple as voting locally can show your kids how participation matters. You can even encourage your children’s teachers to run classroom elections, teach debate skills, and to teach students how our government functions. Taking these steps can give your children the confidence to add to the conversation.
Let Them Form Their Own Opinions
Of course, our hopes are that our children will adopt our value systems. This isn’t realistic or fair, however. If you want your children to actually engage in discussion, and be actively involved in important decision making, then we need to trust them to form their own thoughts, values, and opinions. The best we can do is provide them with the tools to dissect information, think critically and apply what they already know, openly and nonjudgmentally listen to the other side, and proactively engage in their own communities. If you help build these tools, they’ll survive all of the Thanksgivings to come.