Whether you hate or love President Trump’s politics, most parents agree that his behaviors and style of communication are not very presidential.
With all the different goals parents have for their kids, there is one thing most parents share: wanting our children to behave respectfully, politely, and within the bounds of propriety. We want them to live a life defined by the morals and character traits we value. To that end, we model the language, the behavior, the actions, and the values we want them to practice. We reprimand their swearing, their disrespect, their dishonesty, and their unkind behavior towards others. We set them straight when they go off course.
The behaviors and decorum that is modeled by our country’s new leadership are undermining those lessons for our kids. How does a parent teach that being rude is not okay, that name calling is unkind, when our president and his people model doing it so frequently? How is a parent supposed to teach her child about honesty and the unacceptability of lying, when the news is filled with accusations of dishonesty by our president and others in high places?
“Do as I say, not as I do” is an expression from the “olden days,” one that your great grandparents used, one that doesn’t work today. Children will DO as they see you and others do, especially those who, in their minds, have power. Behaviors and language that they witness, they are likely to try out. How many times have you heard your child mimic the s-word with the correct intonation, just minutes after you let the word slip out? How often does your school age child come home from school and try out unkind behaviors on his younger sibling?
Accepting the bad behavior of our current leadership, is not like accustoming yourself to wearing jeans with holes in the knees. This is not something you simply get used to and finally accept. This is not about a style of communication. This is about raising children who have the social and emotional intelligence to know how, when, and where you do and say what is on your mind. This is about teaching them that just because a person in power behaves a certain way does not make it the right way to behave.
To that end, here are some tips to help your children process that to which they are being exposed by the highest leader in our land. I urge you to take the time to keep your children on the proper path of behavior and communication.
- Speak up about unacceptable behavior and communication. Know that your child will absorb what he witnesses. Whether it is by direct viewing or over hearing a story being told, you need to discuss the unkind or bad behavior he has absorbed. Take the time to discuss what he has heard or seen and share your feelings about it.
- Presidents are just people. Explaining the president’s misbehavior is tricky. There is an expectation that presidents are well behaved—they behave in certain ways, make no mistakes, do the right things. Explain to your children that everyone does things that are okay and not okay. Presidents, just like other people in high position, are just people who sometimes make bad choices about their behavior and the words they use.
- All people make mistakes. Children need to see that in real life even adults say and do the wrong things, things with which we don’t agree or of which we don’t approve. And everyone has a chance to change and do better. You can certainly add that you hope our president learns to treat other people more kindly or with greater understanding.
- Moderate your reactions. Your child is watching you in order to know how to react and to feel about everything, including obvious unacceptable behavior. She needs to see how you handle what has happened. Take pains not to overact and then do the same name calling. Rather, take the high road and explain what is and is not okay. Sharing your disappointment is less dangerous than sharing your disgust.
- Someone else’s misbehavior doesn’t pave the way for yours. President Trump or anyone behaving badly (saying misogynistic things, being rude or hurtful, etc..) doesn’t mean it is okay to do. So each of us needs to behave in the ways we know in our own minds and hearts are right.
- Look for the positive. Hard as it is to find or feel it, children need to hear positive things. Parents need to look for the lesson and not just be critical. For example, a child can be told that even the President has people around him who can help him to do the right thing.
- Your values are still your values. Just because our president behaves in a manner you do not support doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs. Your values may not align with his values, but they are yours.
My next blog will address how parents who are disappointed in the recent governmental changes can teach their children what to do about it. Be on the look-out.