A few days ago, while herding my kids into the car for school, my daughter approached me with a question I was not expecting. It rattled me for the entire day. She’s 6 years old and our general conversations are about what she learned at school, who she ate lunch with and her favorite and least favorite parts of her day.
I was not expecting something political. My husband and I don’t talk a lot about politics at home. It’s not an intentional choice to shield our children from it, we just don’t have the time or the energy.
And yet, the question still came up. I found myself immediately emotional and wondering how do you explain topics like this to a child who is still learning to read?
I’m a big fan of learning from others’ experiences, so I explained the conversation on Facebook and asked my community how they would handle a similar situation:
This morning I had a conversation with my 6-year-old that caught me completely off guard.
H: Mommy, l have some bad news.
Me: (slightly panicked because the last time she said this it ended with "I stuck a jewel up my nose and I can't get it out.”)
H: My friend from school has to move out of the state and is never coming back.
Me: That is bad news. I bet you will miss her.
H: Yes. She says she's not moving right away. She says her family has to move because they can't get their green card.
Do we have our green card?
Me: Well, we don't have a green card but...
H: So we have to move out of our house too??? We can't live here anymore??
Me: No... we don't have to have a green card. It's different for us. I promise, we are not moving.
H: What's a green card?
All of this happened while we were trying to get in the car. We ended it by saying that a green card allows some people to live in this country. We were different. We don't need a green card, but other people do and she didn't ask any more questions. But, I have no idea how she processed all that.
We don't talk a lot about politics in our house. The kids know we voted. They know why we watched a lot of news last night and this morning, but we don't talk a lot about immigration, health care, etc. And yet they are exposed to it because their friends are living it.
So how do you talk to your kids about these topics if they come up? My daughter is still learning to read... I certainly don't expect her to understand how green cards work. And this definitely was not a conversation I was prepared for this morning!
Many people responded:
Friday I had the opportunity to also ask our resident Psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel about the subject.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
- Dr. Max said we all know our children the best. As parents we know what our children can handle and what they can’t. Use that knowledge to gauge how much you need to simplify the topic and go from there.
- Speaking of topics, make sure you know the facts. Consider my daughter’s green card question, for example. After our conversation that morning, I googled “green cards” at my computer. I made sure I knew the basics so that when I asked her follow up questions after school that day I was prepared for a more complete answer.
- Dr. Max also said to assume your child may not have gotten all of the correct facts from his or her friends at school. This is where it is important to ask a lot of questions. Find out what they heard so you can figure out if you need to correct them.
- It’s up to you as a parent to determine if you want to share your opinion. However, know that young children may confuse opinions as facts and that can make things more confusing. Again, you know your child the best and that includes what they can and cannot handle.
- Teachers may have the toughest job in all of this. Kids have all kinds of conversations on the playground. Fortunately, most teachers are trained on how to handle topics and situations that come up in the classroom.
- Sometimes children are asking these questions because there is also a lot emotion behind it. My daughter was extremely sad that her friend has to leave, she was also scared that we may have to leave too because she didn’t understand what a green card was. So at the end of the day, asking how your child and their friends felt about their conversation is important. I found out that my daughter’s friend was asking the other children not to forget her. She wants to be remembered if she is able to come back.
- My family is very fortunate to not have hard topics like deportation as a part of their human experience, but this is not the reality for everyone. Some people are forced to have tough conversations with their kids before they would like to. Dr. Max says that every family is going to be different. You may not need to start bringing up political topics with your kids on a regular basis, but if it does come up be honest with them. Answer their questions in a way that they will understand it the best.
If you’d like to see his answers specifically watch the video above!