The year was 1980. I was in fifth grade and recall one of my experiences as a happy Girl Scout. It was a Presidential election year, and as Girl Scouts, we were learning about the process of running for office. It was the Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan election. As an assignment, we were each given a candidate to represent and convince others that our candidate was a worthy choice to be our president. I was given the Independent party candidate, John Anderson. I knew nothing about this person and took the challenge on of finding out all I could about him. Even though I knew Anderson probably would never win, I went into the assignment with respect for this person, for the office, and for President Carter and Ronald Reagan. What a different time it was than where we seem to be now.
This election has brought about, to say the least, some very strong opinions. Schools are approaching the topic with shaky footing, choosing mostly to focus on the power of voting rather than the candidates. As parents, what can be done when the TV, the continuous phone calls, yard signs, and bumper stickers are doing nothing but disrespecting the “other” candidate? It’s relentless. As we all know, our children echo the thoughts of their parents when it comes to the candidate of preference.
Are children ever going to want to even think about running for office someday? The young people watching all this and hearing us talk about it are our future. If we want to try to have strength for our country and its future, here are my thoughts on how to keep these next days of before, during, and after the election in some sort of positive perspective.
Before the Election:
- RESPECT - Even though our kids aren’t able to witness respect being given between the candidates (if you are choosing to allow your child to view Presidential debates, news, etc.) we can talk about how different it could be if the candidates talked to one another in a respectful manner.
- Talk about why campaigns sometimes take a turn to negative views. Introducing your kids to politics is a perfect time to talk about keeping negative opinions to yourself, and agreeing to disagree, even sometimes with your best friend or family members.
- When your child asks you who you prefer in an election, try to model respectful phrasing to explain this, such as “Well, what’s important to me is….” Your child will hear you say these are YOUR views, and may not be necessarily the opinion of all.
- Resist the urge to talk negatively about a candidate. While this can seem funny and harmless, children repeat the words of their parents. Focus on the positives.
On Election Day:
- Take your child with you to vote. Talk about the privilege of living in our democracy and that every vote counts. Your child will see you taking pride in being a United States citizen, and will remember this long into their adult years.
- I read an article recently that reminded me to say things to children in literal terms. Kate Schweitzer writes: “Children tend to interpret things far more literally and, despite what you might think, they believe most of what their parents say. Be ready to explain that Aunt Rose is not moving to Canada if this one wins and the country will probably not be destroyed if that one wins."
Good advice, right? I actually heard a young student recently say that his family is moving to Canada if a certain person wins this election. He didn’t say this to be funny and certainly didn’t understand why, but said with great fear and belief that this was an actual dilemma. Kids hear all and don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Above all, we want our kids to know that he/she is safe and secure and privileged to live in a country that allows voting at all.
After the Election:
No matter the outcome, I think our children need to see that we accept the person who has been elected to become our President. Make sure your child knows you respect the office.
And when all else fails, fall into a round of “Tomorrow!” After all, the sun will come out tomorrow.