Boy, this election is sure making people crazy (me included). Everyone's all wound up about the outcome, and what it means for us. It's one of those times when major world events come into the awareness of young children. Usually, we shield them from the daily news and it's usual dose of murder, theft and intrigue. But huge, long-lasting events like war, hurricanes and contentious national elections creep into the consciousness of our children, and we need to help them understand these events -- in a developmentally appropriate way. It ain't easy.
My friend Brook has some experience in explaining the realities of hurricanes to her kids, since they live in Florida. But she was shocked when another parent went totally out of line and made a "religious/political" statement to her 6-year-old son. I guess what happened is a group of parents in the Playgroup were discussing politics. Then another parent told the kids, "We don't like Barack Obama, because he kills babies."
Now, BabyShrink is not the forum for getting into the evil politics behind this kind of statement (but I sort of can't help myself). I CAN comment on how and why this kind of statement is developmentally inappropriate -- and dangerous -- to make to a young child.
First of all, a 6-year-old doesn't understand the religious/political agenda behind such a statement. He doesn't know that the parent was referring to abortion, or what abortion is. He couldn't possibly understand the complex scientific and political and religious arguments on either side. And he won't really begin to be able to START to grasp it until middle school. That's just developmental fact.
All he knows is that a man who might become president kills babies...at least that's what a grownup told him. And killing anything is bad...killing cute things like his baby sister is even worse. Scary, shocking and upsetting. Grownups, especially people in leadership roles, are supposed to be dependable, safe, and caring. Making a comment like that undercuts a child's very foundation; his ability to trust the adult world.
I know many of my readers are with me so far. But now you're asking, "How the heck do you RESPOND, in a situation like that? What do I tell my child, the next time some idiot adult says something like that?"
It's tempting to try to protect our kids -- especially the little ones -- from the harsh realities of life. The fact is that wars, hurricanes, idiot adults, and other terrible things happen. And we SHOULD protect them from these realities, at least until they have the cognitive capacity to begin to understand, and cope with them. But when we have no choice, we need to respond in a developmentally appropriate way, and only with as much information as your child seeks.
For instance, a toddler or preschooler is pretty clueless about the outside world, and when she does get a glimpse of it, she's likely to interpret it in a sort of storybook/fantasy way. She's familiar with the "good guys" and the "bad guys" from fairy tales, so stick with that analogy. Keep things simple, and limited to 1-2 short sentences. And end on an upbeat note, reminding her that she is fine, you are going to keep her safe, and everything will be OK.
But after kindergarten, kids start to become more tuned in to the outside world, and they can understand more about the difference between fantasy and reality. And with that understanding comes the realization that adults maybe aren't so perfect after all; adults can have failings, make mistakes, and do bad things.
So I advised Brook to explain to her son that the other parent said something mean and untrue, and that Barack Obama DOES NOT kill babies, or anyone, for that matter. And to explain why, as parents, they like him very much. And that perhaps the other family was not a family they would be spending much time with anymore, since "we like to spend time with people who make us feel good, not people who scare us."
Most importantly, we need to control our own reactions when things like that happen. Because our children take their cues on how to react directly from us. Wisely, Brook kept her cool in that situation (and deserves a gold star, at least!). If she had lost it, the impact on her son would have been far more negative. Because our kids don't care much about what OTHER parents do. They care about what WE do.
The good news is, a stupid comment like that is likely to be soon-forgotten by a 6-year-old, if it's handled well by his parents.
But I bet the composition of the Playgroup will be a little different, from now on!