Help in Loudoun

– By Michael 
Oberschneider, Psy.D.

Dr. Mike,
Our family was recently at a BBQ with close friends and the topic of Trump came up. Most everyone there can’t stand him, but a few people were defending him. The discussion became very heated, and while I felt justified in my position that Trump is horrible in so many ways, my husband pointed out that the conversation upset our four and six-year-old daughters. On the car ride home, my older child asked me why I always talk badly about Trump, and my younger one said, “because he’s a bad man.” I don’t have a problem with this, but my husband, who actually voted for Trump thinks that I go too far when I Trump bash and that we need to protect our children from these sorts of topics. What? As a mother of two girls, a wife and a woman, I actually feel very good about telling my girls about how bad Trump is, but now my husband is telling me that I’ve gone too far by teaching my kids about what’s right and wrong? I’d appreciate your opinion on this as a child expert.
Help in Loudoun

Dear Help,
I was recently rumbling through some old boxes from my childhood when I discovered a poster presentation that I did in the fifth grade on our 39th president, Jimmy Carter. It respectfully outlined President Carter’s life and career accomplishments; from his earlier days within the United States Navy after high school and later work as a Georgia peanut farmer to his political climb from governor to the highest political office in the land. I received an “A+” on the assignment, and I remember fondly how my mother helped me with my research and presentation, and how much the two of us had fun putting it together.

It wasn’t until I was older that I learned that my parents were Republicans and that they had actually voted for Ford and not Carter. As a teenager and young man, I recall having great political discussions, sometimes very heated ones, with my mother – I would argue and defend my idealistic views against her more conservative ones. But as a younger child, my parents did an excellent job of protecting me from political disagreements and fighting, and I’m thankful for that.

Fast forward 40 years, to President Trump and the current horribly vitriolic climate between conservatives and liberals. And while I fully appreciate your struggle as a woman and as a mother on the topic of Trump for your girls, I encourage you to think about your motivations when speaking poorly about President Trump in their presence. Just because you might be hurt, angry or offended by President Trump doesn’t mean your children need to be, especially at four and six years of age.

I also encourage you to think about the sort of information you are sharing with your children and what they can handle at four and six.

Developmentally, younger children don’t have the intellectual capacity to appreciate the grey hues or the complexities of deeper ideas, and they instead tend to be more black and white in terms of how they process information. For younger children you’re either right or wrong, guilty or not guilty, bad or good, etc. In addition to being concrete in their thinking, younger children are also very impressionable when it comes to what they’re exposed to in forming their opinions, and they can become upset if the information is too hard for them to manage.

So, while I agree with you that as parents it’s our job to teach our children about what’s right and wrong, the teaching, however, needs to be age appropriate and we as parents also need to be aware of our own emotional triggers.

At the end of the day, in my opinion, younger children need to feel safe and secure in the world, and they need to be supported to believe in themselves and others and they need to view their country and president favorably. With maturity, they’ll have plenty of time to form an opinion on and later tackle the larger issues of the world such as, climate control, immigration and the economy.

Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He has been featured on CNN Nightly News, Good Morning America and several other media outlets. He can be reached at 703 723-2999 and is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240. Ashburn.

3 Comments

  • Martha Polkey August 3, 2017 10:46 pm

    Children at any age have the capacity to understand basic fairness, honesty, and goodness, and it is imperative that they learn these foundational values early. “Dr. Mike” encourages this parent to forego that basic moral imperative, and pretend that the abnormal is normal, that that bigotry, misogyny, vulgarity are positive, and that whatever the current state of national affairs, children should feel good about it. Does his approach have parallels in war-torn nations, in brutal dictatorships? Should a child feel “safe and secure” in a world that a moral parent sees as nothing like? Or should the parent encourage the child to work and strive for a better future?

  • Anonymous August 4, 2017 11:29 am

    I think you’re dead wrong Mike. Mr. Trump is bad man. He is not a man that any child should aspire to be. This is not a political statement. The only thing I might change about the conversation the woman in the article has with her girls is that she speak in simple terms without imposing her opinion. She has a right to protect and inform her children.

  • David August 4, 2017 8:17 pm

    There’s a difference between labeling someone as ‘bad’ and being forthright about behavior that harms people. I would want to be careful to answer their questions strictly in terms of behavior, and knowing that small children will not be able to understand that nuance yet, also gently correct them when they inevitably reflect it back as being about a ‘bad man,’ saying that we don’t always know why people do things.

    Two things I think Mike failed to address in this response: Children may be, or have loved ones who are, members of a group currently being targeted by dehumanizing rhetoric, and they may already be well aware of bullying. They, or their friends, may already not feel safe and secure because of what they’re hearing from other children and adults. They need to know that if this is the case they will be protected, and empowered to stand up for others.

    The second thing is that obviously these childrens’ parents disagree, and it’s important that they disagree while showing mutual respect and compassion. If the adults they love and depend on are being unkind to each other the children would have good reason to be upset.

Add Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: