Q&A

How to talk with your kids about Trump

The current election campaign in the U.S. has been like no other — with crude language, discussions about sexual assault and racist taunts. So how should parents respond when their children are listening — and asking questions?

Despite crude language and bitter debate, psychologist says U.S. election race has teachable moments

Donald Trump holds a two-year-old dressed as the Republican presidential nominee during an October 2016 rally in Pennsylvania. The bitter presidential race in the U.S. may present challenges to parents, who need to talk with their kids about what they're hearing, says one psychologist. (Christopher Dolan/The Citizens' Voice/Associated Press)

The current election campaign in the United States has been like no other, with crude language, discussions about sexual assault and racist taunts.

In particular, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has drawn criticism for calling Mexicans "rapists," proposing a ban on Muslim immigrants and talking about sexually assaulting women.

So how should parents respond when their children are listening — and asking questions?

Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a registered psychologist, parenting specialist and author of the book Discipline Without Damage spoke with CBC Radio about how to talk to kids about Trump.

How much are kids picking up on the election?

"It's really interesting, because I think this U.S. election has actually invaded Canadian playgrounds," Lapointe said.

"In my practice with kids that I see every day, we're talking about this. And certainly in my experience as a mother, my children come home almost daily from school full of conversation about it. So it's certainly all around us."

How do parents respond to lewd comments?

The recently-surfaced audio of Donald Trump's conversation with TV host Billy Bush — in which Trump used crude language and referred to groping women — shocked many adults. So what should parents do when their children hear the comments?

"Those are tough conversations to have with your children, but I think the most important thing is that we do have to have those conversations," Lapointe said.

TV personality Billy Bush said he was 'embarrassed and ashamed' by a 2005 conversation he had with Donald Trump, in which Trump made lewd comments about women. Psychologist Vanessa Lapointe says the story gives parents the opportunity to talk with children about issues such as consent and power. (Peter Kramer/NBC/Associated Press)
"The reality is that your children — especially your pre-teen and adolescent-age children — will have probably come into an awareness of what's happened and what's being talked about. And it's an ideal opportunity as a parent to have some very clear conversation about what your family value system is, and how we would act out on that family value system."

The Trump and Bush audio in particular raises questions about consent, and Lapointe said that can be a vital conversation to have with kids.

"Even for very young children, having [a] conversation about what is your space and what is my space, and we don't invite people into our personal space unless we're comfortable with that, and we can refuse people access to our personal space," she said.

"But certainly as they grow and enter into that adolescent period, we need to be having much more frank conversations around what consent is … and what the social norms, values and expectations are around that."

How much election coverage is OK for kids?

"That's going to be an individual decision for every parent," Lapointe said.

Lapointe says the current U.S. election may spur difficult conversations, but they're important ones to have with children. (Lindsay Faber/Lindsay Faber Photography)
"But my practice as a parent, and what I would be promoting as a psychologist, is that younger children really shouldn't be watching the news at all. As a parent, we need to be filtering some of those messages and making sure that the [language] around them is something we're comfortable with for our children."

Older kids — pre-teens and adolescents — will see and hear more news coverage, even at school. So parents should be ready to have conversations with them about what's in the news, Lapointe said.

"They're going to get those messages, and I think being open and having genuine conversations about that with your kids is going to be really important."

What about anxiety the election might cause?

"Our kids can be left worried on all sorts of things" thanks to what they're hearing about the election, Lapointe said.

"'Are we going to go to war?' is a question that I've had from my youngest son," she said. "'What does this mean for people who are Muslim?' You know, he's got worries about what's going to happen to different groups of people based on some of the conversations that he's been exposed to."

Donald Trump supporters demonstrate outside a 2015 campaign event in Los Angeles. Lapointe says the U.S. election campaign offers parents a chance to talk about family values as well as Canadian values. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
She said it's once again a good chance to talk about values — both in your household and in a broader sense.

"We are so lucky that we live in Canada, and we can have that conversation around what our country is like and what that means to us," she said.

"Also, it invites some great conversation around family value systems and also around the idea of power, and what is good power and what is not good power, and how we can align ourselves to make sure we are always on the right side of the equation."

It invites some great conversation … around the idea of power, and what is good power and what is not good power.- Vanessa Lapointe

Ultimately, she believes it comes down to difficult conversations — but teachable moments — parents can't ignore.

"Your kids are talking about this, and if you're not talking about it with them, then you don't know what information they're getting," she said.

She notes that if parents don't talk with their kids, they'll seek out information elsewhere.

"They will seek an end point or a resolution, and often it's much more catastrophic than the reality," she said. 

"So we have to talk about it. Otherwise, they're left to their own devices to come up with an ending."