How I helped my kids turn down the ugly rhetoric during this nasty election season

“No! Not the Donald Trump show again!” That’s what my 5-year-old screeched when my husband clicked on the television recently.

Political engagement become obsession in our house months ago. Our kid was clearly telling us so. Furthermore, it is no secret who mommy is voting for, since I’ve owned a framed poster of Hillary Clinton since well before the candidate announced her run. My husband conveys his Clinton loyalty in a less subtle way; he yells at the television set whenever Trump appears.

So with two biased adults in the house getting far too much screen time, I obviously needed to figure out how to talk to our kids about the campaign. My 13-year-old said that teachers at his school discouraged political conversations. I could see their point, but at home a ban didn’t seem possible. I will admit, though, that as the campaign has heated up and so has the stuff on television, I’ve turned down the news coverage when the kids are around. Other than that, I fretted a bit over what tack to take.

Ultimately, my policy has become this: talk politics only when the kids bring it up on their own. But what if they bring up Trump? How do I talk about a candidate who I wholeheartedly disagree with? Since I believe in honesty, it took me a while to develop talking points  I could tolerate. First, I committed to nixing pejorative language. So I might talk about the issues I disagree with, but I don’t talk about the way a candidate looks and I don’t call names (at least when my kids are around). I also intentionally focus on Trump supporters, giving them the respect they deserve.

One middle schooler of Latino heritage told my son his parents were voting for Trump. “Why would they ever in a million years vote for someone who wants to deport so many Mexicans?” my son asked.

I had to think about that. I finally told him I didn’t know why that family is voting for Trump, but that some Americans aren’t interested in policies per se. They’re more interested in the emotional connection to somebody who is blunt, assertive and seems down to earth. Too many people in our country feel looked down on by intellectuals and politicians. “My view is that essentially their feelings are hurt and Trump seems to be taking an interest in them. Maybe he makes them feel seen and heard,” I said.

He rolled his eyes.

Teenagers can be really dark. “So are you telling me that if you could obliterate Donald Trump from the planet, you wouldn’t?” he asked.

“I’d never want him to be president, but he can exist. He’s a father and a husband after all,” I said, taking my cue from Clinton’s response to the Red Sweater Guy.

After months of this kind of back and forth, I can’t say that my sarcastic teen didn’t make fun of a great uncle when he saw a Trump sign in his yard. With my teen, I guess I haven’t succeeded completely. I was uncertain, though, what impact the conversations were having on our 5-year-old. Mind you, this is the kid who steals my phone and cracks up when he asks Siri to call Donald Trump or George W. Bush. Yet I didn’t really know his political feelings as of late.

So yesterday I broke one of my rules. “What do you think of Donald Trump?” I asked. He paused for a long time, and I fretted over which overheard horrible adjective he might use.

“Nothing,” he finally said.

“What do you think of Hillary Clinton?”

“She’ll be fine.”

Whew. My strategy wasn’t for nothing.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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Victoria Clayton

Victoria Clayton

Victoria loves research, reading, writing and talking to people. Her biggest asset as a writer is insatiable curiosity. She’s worked as a columnist covering parenting, health and education for MSNBC.com and many other publications. She’s currently an education contributor to TheAtlantic.com. Victoria’s essays have been published in The Midwest Review and Barrelhouse literary magazines. She’s completing her first novel, a family drama set in the Midwest. A child of working class poverty with parents who quit school before finishing eighth grade, Victoria is especially proud of her experience as a long-delayed graduate student and now a part-time professor of communication. Her husband and she have two sons, a middle schooler and a kindergartener. Victoria has been a parent volunteer at a traditional public elementary school in their far-flung suburb of Los Angeles as well as in a charter school devoted to whole child and social/emotional-centered education. Besides reading and writing, she's obsessed with yoga, cooking and Isaac, the family's 8-pound Chihuahua mix. She still believes, despite what some critics say, that education is the most powerful force we have against ignorance, violence and despair. Find her on Twitter @vicclay.

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