January 16, we celebrated the life and milestones of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; a week later, we observed the inauguration of our 45th United States President; and as we look ahead to the month of February, we will celebrate two of our country’s earliest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
As early as preschool, our children understand when something special is happening in the world around us. They may be too young to comprehend all the details, but introducing them to the larger themes of these holidays plants a seed of learning. Later, it may yield an opportunity to engage in age-appropriate dialogue in regards to the ongoing state and evolution of our political climate.
One broad and important idea that underlies each of these events is “democracy,” a present conversational topic amongst adults, and worth every parent’s and teacher’s time to slow down and speak to children about what democracy means: It’s the very platform the United States is built upon, and provides the framework for every important decision in this country.
So how do I talk to my child about history, democracy, our current climate, and what this means for all of us?
On November 9, one day after the presidential election, L.A. Times reporter Michelle Maltais offered perspective-giving advice for helping preschool and elementary age children: “As Americans, we believe in democracy. Sometimes democracy is difficult. Everyone gets a voice, but that doesn’t mean our vote will always prevail, and we must honor the results of the election. And we must respect our fellow Americans.”
Maltais goes on to encourage children to “speak up, speak the truth, and fight for those who need our support. We must stand together and work to make things better for all of us. That’s what America is—constantly in the process of becoming a more perfect union, even through its challenges and imperfections.”
Here are some ideas of various open-ended dialogue you can have with your child, as outlined from Child Development and Behavior Specialist Betsy Brown Braun:
- Listen to your child. What is he asking? What is he worried about? Remember, less is more. Listen and respond.
- Model good sportsmanship. In life, the pendulum will not always swing in the direction we believe in. Modeling responses characterized by graciousness will help set the foundation for healthy behavioral responses.
- Discuss and look for the positive.
- If applicable, discuss the idea of how leaders are simply “people”.
- For a fun, pop-cultural twist, you could discuss the latest musical Hamilton – we’ve fallen in love with this story! While he was a deeply flawed man, it’s a good opportunity to discuss that disappointing actions does not necessarily take away from a man’s greatness.
- Bring to light one of democracy’s lessons, being “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
First and foremost, you are your child’s most important teacher. The present circumstances not only forge opportunities for them to learn, but can also serve as a teaching moment for us adults, too. Allow yourself to see the world through your child’s eyes; inquisitive, stripped down to the basics, and fully immersed in the treasured quality time these conversations provide.