Current Events for Kids: Talking about the 2016 Presidential Election

After the emotional 2016 presidential election season, learn how to talk to children about the events shaping their world.

For many of us, this 2016 presidential election season has been stressful, or, at the least, has pulled on our attention in ways few elections have in the past. Regardless of how you feel personally about the election results, this election and the events leading up to it have generated strong emotions in many of us. Our children notice our strong emotions and form their own opinions from what they perceive from those closest to them, as well as what they hear in the world around them.

Given the level of emotion, here are some questions you may have as parents and some potential answers. Remember that each of us needs to individualize our response for ourselves and our families.

Questions Parents May Have about Discussing the News and the 2016 Presidential Election with Their Children

Is it appropriate to let children be exposed to the news?

It depends on the age of your child. For children five and under, it makes sense to limit news exposure or not permit news viewing at all. Providing no news exposure can be hard because many of us have the radio or TV on in the background while we cook, drive, or get ready in the morning. And news is everywherein the airport, grocery store and on your mobile device. But we can limit news at home and we can pay attention to announcements warning when an upcoming story is not appropriate for young children, and turn off coverage at that point.

School-aged children can handle some exposure to the news but will need us to thoughtfully explain and interpret information. For example, after September 11th, some children who kept seeing the planes on television flying into the Twin Towers thought that this was happening over and over again, rather than understanding that they were watching multiple replays of the same event.

How do we talk to children about world events when we ourselves have strong emotions about these current events?

It always helps to talk or vent to a close friend or family member prior to talking to our children. This gives us time to sort out our own feelings before being able to turn current events into digestible news for children. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it’s worth making time for when we can. It is also important to understand the difference between talking and venting. Venting is when we need to talk with passion to an adult peer about something we care deeply about. We haven’t yet had time to sort out what is a correct perspective, but just need someone to listen to our stream of consciousness. Talking happens in a more relaxed and rational way, taking into account all the information we have. Talking to children is appropriate; venting to children is not.

When we broach emotional topics with our children, they want to know what we think. Helping children understand that not everyone thinks the same way is an important lesson in itself. Trying an approach like this may be helpful when talking to children about politics and the 2016 presidential election: “You have probably heard people talking about the election results. Some people are very happy about the results and some are not happy. This is what I think and this is why…What do you think about the presidential election?” It is always important to ask children what they think: first, because their thoughts should be heard and, second, because it will help you know if you need to correct any misinformation.

How do we reassure our children when they are worried things will change?

For young children in times of unease, the strength of our calm presence and simple reassurances help to make the world a safe and manageable place. One way to react to change is to model taking action to support or counteract the changes. Give money to causes you care about. Become politically active. Help a group of people that is different from your family. Make sure your child knows you are doing this or involve her in the projects as well.

As children get older and their understanding of the world outside their home grows, they not only need us to be calm and reassuring, but they also need our knowledge and our ideas about the larger issues. Life is unpredictable; unexpected things happen. Why? How can we help people who are hurting? Talk about our government. Explain how it’s set up with checks and balances and that there are limitations to the power of any one person or group. Demonstrate that even when things are changing outside of our control, there are still ways to have an impact and make a difference.

Is it ever okay to talk negatively about a group of people?

One important point to make with children is that it is never all right to talk negatively about an individual or a group of people. If children have heard snippets of news or overhear peers or family members, they may think it is okay to make negative comments. This is an important opportunity to make a point about how all people deserve to be treated and to follow this up by modeling this practice yourself.

Children Need Our Wisdom and Guidance

With current events for kids, we have certain responsibilities as parents:

  • Recognize that every child is an individual
  • Reassure children of their own safety and security
  • Help children play and talk through their feelings and understandings
  • Limit their exposure to scary images by reducing exposure to the media
  • Help children participate in global events in ways that are meaningful to them
Children grow into the kind of people they will become at least in part because of how we guide them through their questions, concerns and fears, and depending on whether we use the teachable moments thrust upon us to guide and teach. Our children need our worldview articulated in language they are developmentally able to understand. They will observe not just what we say, but what we do. How and what we teach our children depends on who we are: our civic nature and sense of compassion; our spirituality and feelings; and our willingness to take the time to learn about past and current events, respond with compassion and generosity, and pass that on to our children.

The most important thing we can do for our children is to be there, listen, be our most thoughtful selves, and respond to their emotional and educational needs. The family can be a safe haven where children can express ideas and fears, and be assured that their parents will do their best to protect them. It can be a place to teach them about the world that they will inherit.

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Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

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