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Tips For Talking To Children About The Election

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

If you feel like you've been riding an emotional roller coaster this election season, well, guess what? The kids in your life have noticed. But this anxious moment in history also presents a learning opportunity. Anya Kamenetz and Cory Turner cover education and parenting for NPR. And they have these tips for talking to kids about the election.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: In pre-COVID times, Hasan Kwame Jeffries remembers taking his daughters to vote.

HASAN KWAME JEFFRIES: In 2016, we were right there. It was me and all three of them. The youngest one, I had her in my carrier and I had my other two right there. And I was like, we're going to vote.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Jeffries is a professor of history at Ohio State University. He says this year, his middle daughter, who's 8, wanted to know...

JEFFRIES: What's our voting plan? And I was like, what? So she's not fully clear, but she knows enough that there needs to be a plan.

TURNER: So step one in the election parenting playbook - get active. Show your kids that you and, by extension, they have a voice.

KAMENETZ: Children are picking up on so much right now. And unfortunately, that also means in many cases they can see that we're on edge.

TURNER: So be honest. Tell them Dad's a little nervous about the election. It's helpful for kids' social and emotional development to hear you naming your feelings.

KAMENETZ: Yes. And to reduce that stress as much as possible, try your hardest to turn off the TV or the radio, put away your phone and connect with your kids.

TURNER: Ask what they've been hearing and feeling, and then listen carefully to what they share.

ASHLEY BERNER: It's so important for young people to be engaged in conversations about meaning and purpose and different political viewpoints.

KAMENETZ: Ashley Berner at Johns Hopkins University is an expert in civics education. She says it could be tempting to stay in our bubbles and bash the people we disagree with politically.

BERNER: It's always been difficult, and it's even more difficult when we have media that helps create these separate polls in which we're all siloed in our own worldview without touching others.

TURNER: Berner says we actually need to strive for the opposite, to actively expose our children to a range of opinions.

KAMENETZ: That can help our kids build skills like empathy and evaluating claims and evidence - skills that are absolutely necessary for a functioning democracy.

BERNER: We know that civic formation is the prime reason why modern democracy started funding education in the first place was to raise able citizens.

TURNER: And to be those able citizens, kids also need to know about the world, its history and geography.

KAMENETZ: Berner says research shows the students who spend more time with these social studies topics in school actually do better in other subjects, too, and this basic context will help them sort fact from everything else.

TURNER: Yeah. Election season is full of learning opportunities. Just take a look at all the maps that are online. Or for slightly older kids, you can talk about the 18th-century origins of the Electoral College.

KAMENETZ: You know, the thing about talking about history with our kids is that they're living through history right now.

TURNER: Yeah. And let's face it, that can be really scary.

KAMENETZ: But it's also an opportunity to tell our kids about the Americans who have always fought to expand our democracy, from Susan B. Anthony to Fannie Lou Hamer.

TURNER: Jeffries, the historian, says that when talking with his own daughters about history...

JEFFRIES: I had to begin to consciously say, you got to balance the good with the bad, the pain with the joy, the hardship with the love.

TURNER: And that is a balance worth striving for in the coming days and weeks. For NPR News, I'm Cory Turner.

KAMENETZ: And I'm Anya Kamenetz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIGETO'S "A CHILD'S MIND")

GREENE: And you can find more parenting tips from Anya and Cory at npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.