Children’s Hospital Colorado Clinical psychologist provides ways to reassure kids even when parents hold differing points of view
Released by Melissa Vizcarra, Children’s Hospital Colorado
With another presidential election upon us, discussions about candidates and issues can easily become heated, both in and out of the home. Children often observe these interactions from a very young age, in addition to the onslaught of messages in the media, and the tension can cause them stress.
In our inaugural issue of Just Ask Children’s magazine, Melissa Buchholz, Psy. D., clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Child Health Clinic, offers advice on how parents and other family members canreduce the stress kids may feel during these types of conversations, including some suggested talking points to help diffuse children’s concerns.
Should parents avoid arguing in front of their kids?
It’s OK to have an argument in front of your kids, as long as they see a resolution. Often, parents put the kids to bed, work out the argument while they’re sleeping, and everything is fine when they wake up. But the kids don’t see a resolution take place. Kids need to see that you can still have a relationship with someone you disagree with — that there are healthy ways you can interact with someone who doesn’t have the same opinion as you.
Talking points for explaining healthy arguments to children:
- “Mommy and daddy are just disagreeing. We still love each other and care about each other.”
- “We are talking about what we both think is right. Sometimes people disagree about what should happen with our country or our world.”
- “It’s OK to feel angry. It’s what you do with that anger that matters.”
When does healthy conflict become unhealthy?
Healthy conflict is when opposition comes from a good place and the people arguing maintain respect for each other. It becomes unhealthy when people start calling names or becoming physically or verbally aggressive. If parents feel like the argument is headed in that direction, they should check in with each other to make sure they both feel like they’re still in the healthy range.
Monitor what stress looks like for very young children. If you notice difficulty eating or increased fussiness, that child might be undergoing stress. Ask yourself if you’re exposing your child to your heated arguments and if you need to tone it down.
Talking points for adults when their discussions get heated:
- “I’m sorry I raised my voice at you earlier. I just feel really passionate about this, and I know you do, too. It’s OK for us to disagree, but we need to treat each other with respect.”
- “I see you have a different opinion, and that’s OK. Let’s agree that I have my opinion and you have yours. Let’s talk it through and learn something from each other.”
How can parents help manage stress related to choosing sides?
When parents have differing views, children might feel like they have to choose which parent to agree with. Whether it comes to politics or sports or any kind of split, it’s important to give kids explicit permission to grow and learn and make up their minds later. Emphasize that they do not need to choose a side.
What should kids do if this comes up on the playground?
What kids experience at home can make it to the playground. Parents can prepare kids by explaining that there are lots of feelings and opinions, and that no one is 100 percent right or wrong. Encourage them to accept others and respect people who are different from them. Model that kind of acceptance in front of your children, and it’s more likely they’ll get along better with other kids who have opposing points of view.
Talking points to share with kids for the playground:
- “If you surround yourself with people who always have the same ideas, you’ll never hear the other ideas. Even if you don’t agree with that new thing they think, at least now you know it exists.”
- “If you’re feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, you can say to your classmate, ‘I’m going to play with someone else now. I’m done talking about this.’ You can also say, ‘I’m going to walk away now,’ or ‘This is getting too much for me.'”
Why do parents’ beliefs matter to kids?
School-age children get wrapped up in who their parents are and what that means to them because their parents’ view is their worldview. If you challenge their worldview, you challenge their identity.
What should parents do if kids have specific questions about the election?
Model for kids informed decision-making. Share with them the news sources you trust. If they’re old enough, show them how to research the answers on their own. Explain how some people, organizations, and even news sources disagree about what is and isn’t true, and how that can make it hard to form a decision. Show them how you decipher your beliefs by walking them through your process of critical thinking.
Talking points to explain the election to children:
- “We live in a country where we get to decide who makes the rules that keep us safe and healthy. Every couple of years, new people want to make those rules. Usually those people want what’s best for our world, but there are a lot of ideas about what’s best. Right now, we have some decisions to make as grown ups about who is in charge.”
What if kids have vastly different views from their parents?
You can do the best to raise your child with your values, but at some point they’ll become an adult and make their own decisions. Parents need to decide when they’re ready to step back and let this happen. There is a point when you just don’t have control anymore. Ideally you want to communicate unconditional love, but you also don’t want to be overly permissive. It’s important to search for a balance.
Visit the parent resources section of the Children’s Colorado website for more tips and advice from our pediatric experts.
About Children’s Hospital Colorado
Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado) has defined and delivered pediatric health care excellence for more than 100 years. Founded in 1908, Children’s Colorado is a leading pediatric network entirely devoted to the health and well-being of children. The hospital’s family-centered, collaborative approach combines the nation’s top pediatric doctors, nurses and researchers to pioneer new approaches to pediatric medicine. With urgent, emergency and specialty care locations throughout Metro Denver and Southern Colorado, including its campus on the Anschutz Medical Campus, Children’sColorado provides a full spectrum of pediatric specialties.