It’s no secret that I’ve always been politically minded and involved. When I had my son, that didn’t change and I probably became even more politically conscious. I strapped him to my back and went out to vote, ran exit polls for Planned Parenthood, and helped campaign on both local and national levels. But more importantly, I did my best to keep an open dialogue with my son about the political process at an age-appropriate level. I taught him the importance of voting as a civic duty, and he’s joined me as I’ve casted my ballot in every election since his birth, even in non-presidential election years.
We’re a family that listens to the local (some might call it progressive) radio show in the morning and NPR at other times while in the car, and I happen to have a 5.5 year old who is a total sponge with really well trained ears, and an inquisitive nature. Something will catch his attention and he’ll ask question after question until he’s satisfied. I’m both proud and – at times – overwhelmed by this particular quality.
So it hasn’t really taken me by surprise that in the last few weeks, most of his questions are related to the election – especially when that’s pretty much all everyone is talking about. Last week after the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, somebody on the radio mentioned Big Bird and the kiddo’s ears perked up big time.
“Big Bird?! Why are they talking about Big Bird?”
We listened to the analysis of the debate together before I answered his questions. By the end of the car ride, EZ was well versed in Romney’s declaration that he’d pull funding from PBS in order to lower the national debt (which, as my pal Joanne Bamberger has explained, is less than a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things). Later that evening, I found him still puzzling over what we had talked about earlier.
“Does that mean I won’t get anymore Wild Kratts? He can’t take my Wild Kratts!” I asked.
“I’m sure you’d still get your Wild Kratts. Maybe.”
And that, I thought, was the end of that.
Until yesterday evening when I got an email from EZ’s teacher (who also happens to be a friend of mine from before his days in Kindergarten) that included the following:
E is apparently a VERY passionate Obama supporter. He was telling everyone at snack that Mitt Romney […] would get rid of Pbs.org so everyone HAD to vote for Obama.
The email went on to say that while she thought it was very cute, that perhaps we could talk to EZ about framing his thoughts in another way, since we never know which way other families lean, and EZ’s enthusiastic emphasis on needing to vote for Obama might leave some kids feeling out of place.
I totally understood what his teacher was saying, and agreed to think about ways to talk about this with EZ, but not before feeling a huge swell of pride that my son took it upon himself, unprompted, to do a little bit of campaigning for the President. Then, I sat down to figure out how to deal with this situation. His teacher certainly wasn’t saying that political talk in school was discouraged (although it did seem clear that EZ was the only kid bring politics up at snack), but that we had to find a way to discuss politics where everyone’s choices felt validated.
So, while he took his bath, the kiddo and I talked. We talked about how just like we can’t force someone to like the same type of food or music we like, we also can’t do the same for who we feel should be President. I told him that I loved that he thought about these things and that he clearly felt so passionate about this one issue, but that we can find a way to discuss this and also make sure that everyone leaves the conversation having their own opinion. It seemed to go over well – I think. In typical 5.5 year old fashion, he then immediately turned the topic over to his birthday party plans (which, ahem, isn’t until January, but clearly ever-present on his mind) and all political talk ended for the time being.
However, I want to hear from YOU – have your kids broached politics in school or in a similar setting? How did it go? And I would also love any thoughts you might have on additional conversations I could have with the kiddo about politics and how we talk about them. Please leave your thoughts below!