First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention this week, when she highlighted the importance of serving as role models for our children. Sharing her gut reaction in the emotional moment when she first realized that the lives of her two young daughters would never be the same, the First Lady put forth a call to action to consider how the decisions we make, and the way we manage our challenges, impact our children.
“With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models,” she said. “And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as president and first lady because we know that our words and actions matter, not just to our girls, but the children across this country, kids who tell us I saw you on TV, I wrote a report on you for school.”
And that’s just it. Our words and actions matter—not just some of the time, all of the time.
Parents get tired of hearing the same parenting advice, “Be the person you want your child to be.” Parenting is hard work and some days are better than others. We are not perfect, and we all have bad moments (or days. Or weeks!). It’s hard to be on display all day every day, but the truth is that our kids are watching. They look to us for clues on to how to interact with others, how to solve problems, how to resolve conflict, how to make friends and how to cope with big emotions.
It might be difficult to be “on” all the time, but that’s a big part of parenting.
The words we use when we are angry, frustrated or completely overwhelmed become the words our children use under similar circumstances. The actions we take to handle an emotional conflict or chase down our wildest dreams become a blueprint in the minds of our children. The way we treat our loved ones, in good times and in bad, serves as a model for human interaction.
It might be difficult to be “on” all the time, but that’s a big part of parenting. Forget about athletes, artists and other public figures. We, Mom and Dad, are the role models who make the biggest impact on our children. We are the ones who show them how to navigate this exciting and confusing world. We are the dream-catchers, the problem-solvers, the workers, the carers and the helpers. We set the stage for them, and it’s up to us to step up to the plate.
Even when it’s hard.
When talking politics with kids, it’s important to stick to the facts.
What does that mean during this heated and polarizing election season? It means we learn to manage our own emotional responses to the issues that speak to us, and we show our children that, in the words of the First Lady, “When they go low, we go high.” Here 3 ways to do that:
1. Stick to the facts
Politics are emotional. When you truly believe in something, it can be hard to set aside your own bias and see both sides of the debate. That’s OK. This country runs on freedom, and we all have the right to our own thoughts and opinions on any given matter.
What we don’t have the right to do is to bully other people who might hold opposing views.
When talking politics with kids, it’s important to stick to the facts. As difficult as that can be at times (believe me, I’ve had some hard conversations with my own kids about this election), it’s important to give kids honest and factual information. When we add emotions and highly charged opinions to the mix, kids internalize them. They also turn them on other kids on the playground. I’ve seen it. Many times.
2. Remain calm
Passion is great. Kids need to see that we have passion in our lives. (I happen to be passionate about things like writing and baking, but many people are passionate about politics.)
What they don’t need to see is overwhelming anxiety about the “what-ifs.” It’s natural to worry about the state of the world, especially in response to recent acts of violence all around the world, but excessive worry won't get you anywhere, and it will trickle down to your kids.
No matter the results of this election, our country will need to learn to work together if we want to make positive changes.
Stay calm when talking about the election with your kids. Pros and cons on specific issues are great. Kids should see that there are two sides to every issue. Heightened anxiety can cause kids to feel unsafe, and it can trigger separation anxiety. If mom and dad are convinced that the world isn’t safe, how are kids supposed to feel?
Learn to manage your own anxious thoughts so that you don’t project them onto your kids.
3. Talk teamwork
No matter the results of this election, our country will need to learn to work together if we want to make positive changes. That fact gets lost in the shuffle when opposing teams trade insults and negativity.
Talk to your kids about how our government actually works. Sure, the president is our leader, but there are many people working tirelessly to represent this country. It isn’t as simple as one winner and one loser. It’s important for children to understand that teamwork plays a role in helping our country thrive.
In times of trouble, we teach kids to seek out the helpers. "Find the people who make the world a better place," we whisper over and over again. We have the opportunity to be those very people. Every single day. All we have to do is answer the call to be positive role models for our children.