Using Politics to Enhance Social-Emotional Learning


The elections are almost upon us and this round of debates and reporting, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, seems a bit different from prior years. Since 1960 when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon participated in the first televised debates, the candidates, their political parties, and the American public, came to realize the potential impact. Typically a time to learn more about the candidates themselves and their opinions regarding various policies and party agendas, this year’s elections have exposed us to additional elements.

The rancor, the verbage, and personal behaviors of the candidates and their families, in the present and the past, has left some parents and schools wondering at what age, and how, much less if, the debates and political reporting should be shared or discussed with their children and students. There is no doubt that current events are typical discussions in schools and in many homes, but this presidential race has offered us an opportunity to review some best practices.

When discussions involve issues, alone:

  • Consider the age and maturity of a child when discussing policies.
  • If child is watching the news or a debate, watch with him so you will be available to answer questions as they occur, or soon afterwards.
  • Make sure topics are presented in age-appropriate ways and lead children to calmly discuss pros and cons of different issues.
  • If a child has worries about a particular issue, ask the child to tell you his specific concerns, and offer honest reassurance.
  • Let your child problem-solve and find ways to make a difference; empower the child by encouraging him to work toward making a change, and improving his world.
  • Make volunteering a family event; whether in a soup kitchen or on a campaign, every person counts.
  • Continue discussing current events, not just through a presidential campaign.
  • Accept that children and their parents may support differing points of view.

When discussion involve personal behavior and personalities, both of the candidates, themselves, or of their family members:

  • If something has been said or done that you feel warrants discussion, approach it head on instead of hoping the behavior wasn’t noticed or will be forgotten.
  • Rather than telling your child what you feel is right or wrong, ask him questions and let him reach his own conclusions. To promote social-emotional awareness, one might ask: How did it make you feel when he said that?  Why do you think he handled it that way?How do you think it made other people feel when he said that?How would you feel if someone said that to you? Or looked at you or spoke about you or your family that way?
  • To promote social-emotional learning, one might ask: How else might that message have been delivered? How might you respond if he had been speaking to you?

The truth is, the only person’s behavior anyone can control is his own. Making conscious decisions for how to respond and behave is learned over time and with maturity; should additional guidance be needed, there are organizations and individuals that can provide assistance. These tools, both for our children, and ourselves, are important skills that will help us find greater success in school, in work, in life…and even in politics. We would all benefit from making the effort to strengthen our personal tool kits with these social-emotional skills.


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Photograph by Elliott Stallion.

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