Opinion

How to talk to your kids about Trump

Parents can use The Donald's offensive behavior as teachable moments for their children

The other day, my 8-year-old son informed me that Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep Muslims out of the country. Did I think this was a good idea, he asked?

Choosing to ignore the semantic shortcomings of his geopolitical knowledge, I said no, I didn't think this was a good idea. Then I tried to explain why.

"If everyone felt that way, this country would not be this country," I tried to explain to him and his two young brothers. "Remember why people came to this land in the first place?" I asked with a nod to the fourth grader whose class was studying the American Revolution. I reminded them that this country is a melting pot of people from a mix of religions, cultures, and countries. "Imagine living in a place where everyone was exactly the same."

I felt like I was losing their attention. Glancing at my son's cleats, I tried to make a sports analogy. "Or being on a team where everyone played the same position!?"

And they were back with me. "That's impossible!" they said.

Exactly. It wouldn't be much of a game, I explained. Isn't that the beauty of your teams? You're all in different places, bringing different skills and experience to each game. And you respect the coaches, the refs, and the other players, even if they’re not on your team.

This exchange is just one example of the kind of parental acrobatics required to turn Trump's antics into teachable moments for my kids. At first, I was excited for them to witness a presidential campaign. They'll see their history books and the electoral process come alive, I thought. But instead of a lesson in U.S. government, we've been handed a lesson in how not to act, treat, or speak to one another.

So what do we say to our kids amidst this circus?

As we watch Trump bully, berate, and belittle his rivals, I use his antics as an opportunity to remind my kids over and over again to be kind. For example, the other day, Trump made fun of the way rival John Kasich ate his pancakes. I explained to my older son that when he makes fun of his younger brother for any number of things, what he's really doing is just making himself look bad, just like Trump.

Last fall, Trump made fun of a disabled reporter. (He says that wasn’t his intention, but video points to the contrary.) Seeing an adult mock someone who faces a life of great physical and emotional challenges is unsettling. I did not need to elaborate tremendously on this with my boys, as their sister, my oldest child, has a form of autism. She requires daily assistance, and if anyone, even a presidential nominee, were to mock her for her differences, the boys would know it was wrong. (And I would probably advise that person to run, fast.)

Unlike Trump, however, I would tell my sons that while it might be their inclination to punch that person, violence is not the answer. We actually spend a lot of time reviewing just that: impulse control. Most afternoons sound a little like this: Don't touch him. Do not hit him. I don't care what he called you — you are not allowed to hit. And you are not allowed to use that word.

How you treat others matters. It's a never-ending mantra. And while it sometimes seems like an easy solution might be to draw a line, to build a wall, and to tell them to stay on their own sides, in the end, moms know we have to teach our children how to live together.

They're catching on, but the lessons continue. And thanks to Trump, I imagine there will be more teachable moments to come.

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