“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” -George Washington, First President of the United States.
Ah, the good old days.
Each time election season rolls around (and this one has been going on for a long time now) I always wonder how it is affecting our children. If there is one thing that can be said about this election cycle that we can all agree upon is that it has not exactly been an exhibition of genteel, respectful behavior. Parents might be forgiven for thinking that children, particularly if they are on the younger side, are not really aware of these political - and social - shenanigans. But as they say, little pitchers have big ears, and although young people might not understand the nuances and implications of what is going on, they can still feel it. And it often doesn’t feel good.
It can be confusing for children to hear words like “name-calling,” and “lying” being applied to potential leaders of the land. It is very unsettling to see adults - whether on screen or in person - behave like bickering children, or worse. Confronted with multiple examples of adults behaving badly, youngsters might begin to wonder, “Does honesty really matter? If someone disagrees with me, is it actually okay to belittle them or call them names?” And when this behavior trickles down into the school yard or sports field as children emulate what is being modeled to them, the question quickly becomes, “How do I handle it if someone does that to me?”
Parents, teachers and mentors alike share the over arching goal of helping children obtain the knowledge and experience they need to meet life’s challenges and be successful. So how can we help them prepare for potentially uncomfortable interactions or confrontations that might arise during this time - and in the future? What tools or ideas can we help them utilize?
Here are a couple of empowering strategies you can employ in age appropriate ways to help your child. It is particularly effective to practice the following techniques at home as a rehearsal for real life situations.
• Respond, Don’t React: When emotions run high, we all have an immediate reaction, but it is often not the best response. Response takes thought and focus. It takes self-control. It takes thinking before we act or speak, and sometimes, this can be a real challenge. It is important for children to know that it is a normal human impulse to quickly react when we are confronted with powerful feelings - adults, too. When our pulse races and we feel those emotions welling up inside, that is the signal to pause, to breathe, to calm ourselves down and remember that we have the power to choose our response. If your child has already had an encounter or experience he wishes had gone differently, you can use that to compare and contrast reaction versus response. Or, you could use a hypothetical scenario or two.
• Don’t Take the Bait: As the saying goes, it takes two to tango - and if one person declines to dance, the other can only do a solo. Sometimes, another person may seem primed for debate and it is tempting to jump right in, especially if we believe strongly that they are off-base. But just because someone holds different views than we do does not automatically mean it is the time or the place to “set them straight’. Uttering something like, “Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” might be taken as a snarky comment and just escalate things. Sometimes, depending on who it is, we can simply tell the other person that we do not wish to talk about a particular subject, but often, one can deftly steer a conversation in another direction by first replying with a few equivocating phrases. To practice handling these awkward situations help your child try out a few noncommittal responses such as, “Is that right?” or “I see,” or a thoughtful, “Hmmm,” while looking for an opportunity to change the topic by jumping in with, “That reminds me . . .” or, “Hey, did you hear about . . .” This is a fun one to practice at home, and can be humorous at first, but remember the goal is to be so smooth that no one notices what you have done!
Election season is also a great time to discuss what being a leader truly means. What are the qualities your child deems most important in a leader? Is leadership about bossing people around? Is leadership about acting, or feeling, above others? Does it mean you can do or say anything you want anytime you want? Does it mean the rules don’t apply to you? Or, does it mean you are careful of how you do and say things, that you do what you can to be helpful to others, that you encourage people to be their best, and that you are honest and true to your word and to yourself? These conversations can be deeply meaningful to your child and very powerful in helping them to envision who they want to be, and to become.
Whether old or young, outgoing or shy, bookish, artistic or sporty, we can all be leaders in our own ways. Each of us can inspire those within our circle of influence through our good character and honest example. Hopefully, it will trickle up. •GMS