Psychologist gives advice on how to talk to kids about the election

MADISON, Wis. — Whether you’re celebrating President-elect Joe Biden’s victory or not, doctors believe now could be a good time to talk to your kids about elections.

SSM Health psychologist Dr. Kathleen Hipke said with all the conversations about voting, and now the results, parents are likely answering many questions from kids. Regardless of your beliefs about the outcome, she said right now you should be teaching your kids about the importance of participation.

“This is a great opportunity to talk about our democratic process. It’s hard because it’s also been one of the most divisive elections in memory and there are a lot of feelings that go with that. But we can think about a couple pieces here and one is just helping kids know what the process is, helping them understand why their vote matters, how civic engagement, participating is important, and it’s our obligation as part of a democracy,” said Hipke.

She said being part of something bigger than yourself is good for your mental well-being, especially during the pandemic while people have been feeling isolated.

“I think there is a lot of potential here for connectivity, which can be a benefit. But at the same time, because this has been such an intense election cycle, it can also be important for families that feel really immersed all the time to take breaks,” said Hipke.

Hipke said it’s ok — and actually helpful — to talk to your kids about feelings you’re having about the election.

She said parents can model saying things like, “I’m anxious about this,” or “I’m worried.” But she said what kids need is to also be able to hold hope.

She said one of the most important things is to ask kids how they’re feeling, what they’ve been hearing and what they think about it. Listening to these answers can help open up a dialogue.

Hipke said it could be helpful to tell kids stories about historical figures who have persevered and that “have really hung in there despite, lost elections and barriers and setbacks, for what they believe in.”

This can help show both kids and adults that adversity can be overcome.

It’s important to remember not to tell kids how to think or feel, but to create a space where you can both share opinions. This will help show kids that it’s ok to have differing opinions from others.

“We can have different ideas. We can still be in a relationship, we can still be in dialogue. And really over time there are going to be all sorts of hard issues  for our kids to navigate with people on both sides. So these are really life skills I think for the long haul,” said Hipke.