How to Talk to Your Girl About the Election
Amelia F. of Arlington, Virginia, doesn’t usually shy away from tough topics when talking to her elementary-aged girls, but even she admits that talking politics with kids in 2020 is tricky. “Usually, we’re really open about world events and do our best to break them down into age-appropriate conversations,” says Amelia, “but current events are raising questions I’m not sure how to answer.” Amelia is not alone; a recent poll found that seven in 10 American parents believe that talking to their kids about politics is more difficult today than it was for their parents. For parents and caregivers of girls, the stakes can feel especially high as many of the issues on the ballot, like access to healthcare and climate change, disproportionately impact women and girls.
Tackling the divisive nature of politics today, how to tell truth from fiction and why some people understand the world so differently than your own family can be tough, but experts say it’s important for parents and caregivers to have these conversations with their girls. “Kids will hear about difficult topics that hit the news one way or another,” says Katie Hurley, LCSW, child and adolescent mental health expert and author of “A Year of Positive Thinking for Teens.” “They need to trust their parents to give them honest and accurate information to help them figure out how to work through their feelings.”
As the 2020 presidential election draws near, and the political tension and anxiety that elections bring increases, it’s important for parents and caregivers to think through how they’ll discuss the election with their girls. The tips below are a great place to start.
Reflect on your own core values
At Girls on the Run, we recognize the importance of knowing and acting on our core values. We also know that before grown-ups start talking to their girls about big topics, it’s important that they have clarity about how and why they feel the way they do. As you plan your conversation with your girl, take some time to reflect on how your own values shape the actions you take and the votes you cast.
Share age-appropriate news and candidate information
While we may hope that our girls ultimately grow to share our values and beliefs, it’s important to give them the tools and information they need to think for themselves. “Stick to facts and information you can look up together,” advises Hurley. As you read and research with your kids, talk to them about different sources of information and help them seek out age-appropriate, unbiased sources, like the Scholastic Kid Reporter’s Notebook.
Create an open, ongoing dialogue
Our girls care about what we think, but they also need to know that we care about what they think. Developmentally, it’s also important that they be able to take breaks and revisit big topics when they feel ready. “With elementary-aged kids, it helps to chip away at big topics with frequent, small conversations,” says Hurley. To open a conversation, ask your girl what they’ve heard about the election in general or about a more specific issue that you care about, and really listen to what they have to say. As you talk, you can correct any misinformation they may have heard, answer any questions they may have and address any anxieties they may be feeling. “It can also be helpful to add some context,” says Hurley, “letting your kids know that our country has endured difficult times and elections in the past, and that we have systems in place (like the House of Representatives and the Senate) to make sure our voices are heard, can help them feel reassured that we’ll get through it no matter who wins the election.”
Share how your family values impact your voting choices
After helping your girl grow their knowledge of both candidates and the issues, and creating space for them to ask questions and think through their opinions, it can be powerful to share how you plan to vote and why. “Sharing your core values with your girl, and how they impact the choices you make can help set a strong, positive example for your girl of how to make decisions based on her own values as she grows,” says Liz Kunz, CEO of Girls on the Run International. Talk with your girl about how each candidate does or does not align with your core values and your hopes for the world and what led you to make your choice. Share how and why you may have changed your mind on certain issues over the years and let her ask questions. It’s natural to feel passionate about the election and the ideology that each candidate represents. As you talk, do your best to convey this passion positively and model how you express strong emotions.
Let them know how they can impact their community no matter who wins
At Girls on the Run, we believe that all girls are born with power and purpose. While we all hope that our candidate of choice will win the election, it’s important for your girl to understand that no matter which party is holding office, she has the power to make a difference in your community. Talk to your girl about the ways she already gives back, like helping her neighbors, spreading kindness at school and volunteering or raising money for a local charity, and make a plan for how she wants to keep growing her impact.
2020 marks the centennial of women’s right to vote, and it is important for girls to understand why it is so important that women exercise that right. While the election will be over in time, the way you talk to your girl about how and why you vote will have a lasting impact on the choices she makes as she grows. By sharing your values and the way that those values help you make decisions at the polls, you’ll be showing your girl how to be intentional with her decision making and make sure that her voice counts!
For more meaningful tips on communicating with your girl, visit our Parent Resources page.