Politically Sane Holiday Talk… Do it for the Kids

A client came to his session week stunned after receiving a letter from his sister-in-law addressed to each guest attending her upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. He pointed incredulously to the part that said, “…and please, for the children’s sake, do not bring up politics.”  Has anyone else reading this newsletter received this mandate? It’s probably the right thing to do if there are family members incensed with political fervor who don’t know when to quit. Instead, if these adults could follow a few tips for politically sane and respectful talk on hot button topics, it would be better than censorship for kids. Children need to see good examples of how to listen, share their views and explore the views of others in a healthy and constructive way. Touchy subjects don’t have to be avoided, and differences of opinions don’t have to ruin a holiday.

In middle school I had a friend whose family, on Wednesday nights, engaged in healthy, constructive and educational debates at the dinner table. They would pick a current event and each family member had a point of view to support. Dad, the referee, made sure each person had chance to speak and be heard. If you swore or raised your voice, you’d be disqualified. By the end of the dinner, the only person at the table who walked away a little miffed was the one who failed to support their point of view as well as the others. These kids ended up being stars on the debate team and built strong friendships with their competitors from other schools.

Just in case your dog ate the memo from the sister-in-law, here are some ways of having some politically sane discussions and being a good example for the kids:

  • If a family member asks you about your political stance, calmly give 2-3 facts in support of your opinion and keep it short. Facts are the indisputable truths that stand up to scrutiny. Opinions, slogans, conspiracy theories and interpretations are not facts. Kids would benefit if they learn the difference. Pointing out differences between facts and non-facts will help them become better critical thinkers.
  • When a family member goes on a rant, you stay silent. Jumping in to agree or disagree only fuels the fire and offends those on the other side. Eventually, he or she will calm down when there’s no audience participation. Kids will learn that this howling at the moon is bizarre and alienating behavior, not to be mimicked.
  • If you feel you must respond, keep your voice soft and your rate of speech slow. This changes the dynamic and brings the discussion down to a slow simmer. Once the vociferous one calms down, tell back, using his /her words as closely as possible, what he or she had to say. This lets the person know they were heard, which is why they get loud in the first place. They may feel more open to hearing your side of things.