Ask A Mom: Nasty Political Ads, Responsibilities, and the Problem of Throwing
WBTV’s Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions
Q: Hi Molly! How do I talk to my kids about the election with all the nasty debates and political ads they see on TV?—Heather
A: Great question, Heather. Many of us are wondering the same thing. I made the mistake of letting my 4th grader stay up to watch the beginning of the first Presidential debate. She’s talking about the election in school—through a laptop in our hallway in virtual class—and I figured there could be educational opportunity in seeing the political process play out.
She got an education, alright. She learned the art of disrespect, losing control, and how a Presidential stage can seem like a two-person kindergarten room. Thirty minutes in, Parker said, “I thought you said we should always listen to someone when they say something, even if we don’t agree.”
From the mouths of babes. I told her she was right, the men were wrong, and we turned off the TV.
But to your point, we can’t always hit the remote or shield kids’ eyes. There are political ads, billboards, radio spots, and vandalized yard signs all around us. We can fist-pound the air, get angry at candidates—on both sides—who throw mud, but that doesn’t change the negativity our kids soak up, arguably this year more than ever.
“I used to worry about the national debt we were passing on to the younger generation,” says Elizabeth Pinard, a parent-child interaction therapist in Charlotte. “Now I worry more about the values and behaviors our political leaders are modeling for our children.”
Pinard suggested reading books to young children—local libraries have many for free—about the government and election process, rather than letting them watch politics unfold live. She also says exposure to debates and political ads should be minimized. Children, she said, don’t have fully formed brains, and taking in attack ads and chaos can be overwhelming.
Great advice, but let’s be honest. That’s hard to implement. Almost every ad right now is political. (I work in a live television studio every day and see each exhausting one.) How do you limit a kid’s exposure to each commercial break?
“If you can’t avoid negative political messages, then instead use them to talk about your own family values,” Pinard says. “If your own family values include kindness, compassion, respect, responsibility, etc., then use the political ads as a comparison to what you find important.”
When engaging middle and high-school aged kids in conversation about politics, Pinard suggests emphasizing that the political ad is selling something: a candidate. It’s not unlike other ads that sell toys, cars, or beauty products. And, just like in those ads, you shouldn’t always believe everything you read or see.
“Fear and hate mongering have always existed in politics,” she says. “It helps if parents highlight that fact. It can also help develop a child’s critical thinking skills, which will be useful throughout their lifetime.”
The Children’s Hospital Colorado suggests sharing which news sources you trust with your kids, and explain how some people and organizations disagree about what is true and what isn’t. Cop to the fact that it can be hard for everyone—including adults—to make a decision.
The website care.com says you should encourage kids to pause, think, and ask questions before reacting. If you see an ad or a social media post that reflects no thought and is all emotion, call it out.
“Tell your kids when they feel a really strong, immediate reaction to a social media post, resist the urge to share it immediately,” the article says. “They should stop, breathe, and think about what is making them feel that way. The first line of defense is always to read the whole article or post before sharing.”
That’s good advice for all ages.
After the Presidential debate, I showed Parker the morning-after analysis. Most headlines dripped with criticism, mirroring her 9-year-old impression. I told her that how she felt is how many felt.
“It’s not hard to be nice,” she said. “Maybe someday I’ll run for President and tell everyone to vote for me, because even if I don’t agree with them, at least I’ll listen to what they say.”
Q: Hi Molly. What household responsibilities do you give your kiddos? We are trying to let our kids share in making our home successful.–Kristen
A: We started chores a few months ago. We might be late to the game, but our 9-and-5-year-olds suggested a chore list—if they get paid an allowance. I never got an allowance growing up and wasn’t super keen on the idea, but my husband said he thought it would be a lesson on financial savings. More on that in a minute.
We let them pitch chores they thought were appropriate and doable, then negotiated an individual list with them. Chores were specific to days. Example: Thursday is trash day, so Parker’s Wednesday chore is to roll the big cans to the curb.
Other responsibilities include: Sweeping the porch, watering flower boxes, and helping me with laundry one day a week. Kindergartner Hutch also really wanted to wash the windows with spray glass cleaner (he’s a quirky kid), so that’s one for him. And though it’s not on the actual list posted in the kitchen, they also have to take their dishes to the sink after meals.
If they complete their chores, each gets paid Sunday night. If they don’t do something, they don’t get paid. I’m hard on that. You must actually do each task to get the money. As for the money… it does seem to motivate. We give $10 a week, but they must give $5 of it back to us on the spot to put in savings for them. That still gives them five bucks a week to hold, and so far, has kept everyone happy.
Q: Hey Molly! Any tips on throwing? My youngest, almost three, has taken up throwing. As in, launching breakables across the room. I know it’s a cry for attention, but wonder if my best bet is a good old time out, or something more creative?—Nikki
A: My gut reaction to your question was, “Make sure she has soft toys?”
Being that my thought is entirely unhelpful, I went back to parent-child interaction therapist Elizabeth Pinard to get an expert opinion. If you’re not familiar with what PCIT is and the coaching Pinard goes through to have that title, just know it’s a therapist who works with kids to improve their behavior. You can learn more about the specific type of coaching here.
“This parent is ahead of the game in that she knows the behavior is attention-seeking,” Pinard says. “In PCIT, we coach parents to ignore attention-seeking behaviors unless they are dangerous to self or others. Since this is destructive, this mom can’t ignore the behavior.”
Pinard said to pretend, Nikki, that your child is throwing a glass. If you see this getting ready to happen, grab the glass and say, “Glasses are not for throwing.” Then give the child an alternative item to throw. Like a soft stuffed animal. If you see your child ever engaging in the opposite of this behavior—say, carrying the glass carefully—give over-the-top positive praises so they get positive attention. For example, “THANK YOU for being so gentle with the glass!”
Pinard says every word matters. So when labeling praise, it should be strictly positive. Don’t say, “I like it when you don’t throw the toys.” Doing that talks about the negative act of throwing toys and no longer feels purely positive. Instead, Pinard suggests something like, “I like it when you keep your toys on the floor!”
“Kids will get the attention in positive ways and negative behaviors will decrease,” she says. “But if a child does continue to throw fragile items, a consequence is in order. Time out might be the best bet. Given the child’s age in question here, I would limit the time out to no more than three minutes.”
Hope that helps.
If you guys have new questions—anything!—please send them my way for next month’s column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or keep an eye out for next month’s call for questions on our Facebook and Instagram pages and leave one there. You can also click the button on Charlotte Parent’s homepage and submit a question whenever it strikes. I love reading what’s on your mind.
MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5:30 and 11 p.m.