It’s a presidential election year again. And that brings out all the campaign hoopla, mudslinging and platform thumping that make politics fun to watch. But this is also a potentially tough time for kids with social skills issues.
These kids face challenges with social situations in general. But political conversations are often heated. They can cover sensitive topics, like the role of government in our lives. Emotions around politics can run high.
In political discussions, kids with learning and thinking differences tend to struggle with:
If your child struggles with social situations, you might be inclined to keep him away from politics. But in a presidential election year, that’s going to be hard.
Unlike off-year races, the presidential election will be everywhere. From family gatherings to classrooms, everyone will have an opinion. Schools will hold mock debates and elections. And there will be a swirl of chatter on social media and the Internet. So your child will hear about the election sooner rather than later.
Even if your child could avoid politics, you might not want him to. The presidential election is an opportunity to teach your child about citizenship. It’s also a chance to teach your child some key social skills.
But your child will need your help to take part in the conversation. Here are some suggestions.
Build your child’s knowledge base about the election.
Your child can’t participate in political discussion if he doesn’t know what it’s about. Look for balanced, reasonable sources of information for your child to learn from. You and your child can monitor these sources throughout the campaign to make sure he’s up to date.
The election process also has a special vocabulary. GOP, straw votes, Democratic Party, Electoral College—these are just a few of the terms your child will hear. When you hear a term with your child, ask him if he knows what it means. If he doesn’t, explain it.
Share your own views on candidates.
Most middle-schoolers and high-schoolers get their political information by listening to what they hear you say at home. So, if he’s interested, include your child in political discussions.
Explain to him why you like a certain candidate. Talk about how the candidate’s values fit into your family’s values. Talk about how the candidate’s platform affects the good of the country.
Keep in mind that your child may repeat any off-hand remarks you make. So be aware of what you’re saying.
Invite your child to have his own views.
Encourage your child to tell you what he thinks about the election. Listen to what he says while softly questioning in a supportive way. You may want to encourage him to have several concrete reasons for his views that he can share with friends, peers and adults.
Expect that your child will come home with widely varying views from his friends. He may need you to help him understand why there are so many different ways of looking at the election.
Encourage your child to be tolerant of others’ views.
Sometimes, kids with learning and thinking differences struggle to see others’ perspectives. This is a critical skill for them to learn. Your child needs to learn to be accepting of others’ views and understand that differences of opinion are natural. Keep in mind that this isn’t likely to happen naturally for kids with social skills issues.
You may want to role-play interactions where you and he have different views. Show him how you can disagree, but still have a respectful, friendly discussion.
Watch election events like TV debates and news reports with your child.
Not only is watching a TV debate together fun, it’s also a learning experience. Don’t force your child to watch. But be sure to include him if there is an important speech like the State of the Union or a debate between candidates. These are likely to be a topic of conversation the next day in school.
Above all, have fun with your child during this very important process we call democracy. Including your child will help him understand how precious our freedoms, like the right to vote, really are!
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About the author
About the author
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.