Jobs, bayonets, 'apology tour': How to talk politics with your kids

Jobs, bayonets, and the "apology tour" may make your family a presidential debate arena of its own – but how to talk politics with your kids is important to their development.  While we may want our kids to share our values, we can help them understand why we hold these values and that even people who disagree are not evil.

Jobs, bayonets, and the "apology tour" may divide adults over the presidential elections, but it's a teachable moment for our kids. Here, Sari Lewien poses with an image of President Obama at the CarolinaFest, a street festival for Convention delegates and their families, ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., last month.

It’s hard to protect our children from the barrage of political ads. In some homes the interest of the parent is so great that the ads and the political talk shows fill the air. On the other hand, this situation can be an important teachable moment for our children. While we might like our children to share our values, it is wise to also help them understand why we hold these values and that even people who disagree with us are not necessarily evil.

Depending upon the age of the child we can start with the idea that people have different ideas about how to create a good community or solve problems. Even little ones can understand that people choose others to make decisions about what is good for our community. They can understand that by our vote we try to choose people we think will make good decisions. It’s important, in child terms, to communicate why we are choosing a certain candidate. 

Children already tend to see things in black and white, so a little effort at moderation may help them be aware of some of the shades of meaning in the political arena. We can help them see that people sometimes get angry and agitated, so much so that they don’t think about reasons, but that reasons for our choices are really important.

Since one of our children may choose another path or marry into a family with different political inclinations, it is good that they know how to respect the viewpoints of others and, when appropriate, to express their own viewpoints in a thoughtful and reasoned way.

Many of us have taken part in family events where our main challenge was biting our tongues. I believe this is one of those born-in temperamental qualities – the ability to listen to what we consider utter nonsense and not call the speaker out. Even those not so predisposed can learn to hold their tongue when a pointless argument would ruin a family event. And if that can’t be achieved then our goal might be the ability to state a point and back it up with reasons – reasons other than, "Your idea is utter nonsense."

It is equally important to help our children understand that many worthwhile goals can be accomplished outside the political arena. If our values lead us to care for those who are poor or disadvantaged, we can show our children by our actions that we as individuals can make a difference. We can donate or work at a food bank. We can gather books or clothing for children in need. We can visit senior centers with flowers, goodies and the time to listen.

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Years ago there was a song from the musical "Hair" that was a good reminder. The line was, "Do you only care about the bleeding crowd? How about a needing friend?" Groups and movements do have power, but so do individuals in the many small steps that improve the lives of others near them.

Most of us have a needing friend, and if our children see us care for that friend, they might learn as much as they could from any political conversation. 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.

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