US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before boarding Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC
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Jokes About Trump Are Mean and They Set a Bad Example For My Kids

Nov 21, 2018

The night of the U.S. presidential election, I thought about letting my kids stay up to watch the results. Sure, it might make for some morning grumps and a drowsy school day, but seeing the United States elect its first female president seemed to justify the price. Then I thought better. Good thing, too. That spared everyone an awkward-to-explain swear-fest.

Since that election I have been struggling with how to talk with my kids about Trump. To me, he is a brash and blustering bully who courts confrontation and exploits division in order to achieve his ends, and I feel like that’s a generous characterization.


Relevant Reading: How to Talk to Kids When The News Cycle Gets Scary


“Why does Donald Trump want to build a wall?” my nine-year-old wants to know. “Does a ‘trade war’ mean the U.S. will invade Canada?”

My six-year-old tosses in for good measure: “Is Donald Trump really an idiot?” 

I mean, where to even start?

As difficult as it can be to talk about the Trump news cycle, the toughest questions, I've found, are the ones that the Trump presidency has forced me to ask about myself. Let me explain. 

We used to have a poster in the room where my three kids keep the toys and craft supplies. We printed it from the internet and the kids coloured it in with crayon. It’s a popular mnemonic device that uses the word 'think' to prompt kids to consider how their words may affect others. The idea is to think before you speak by asking:


T – Is it true?
H – Is it helpful?
I – Is it inspiring?
N – Is it necessary?
K – Is it kind?


That’s a pretty good checklist. Who would have trouble following that?

Me, apparently.

I say and think unkind things all the time, especially about you-know-who. 

Just the other day I was sneaking a little screen-time for myself while the kids were occupied. It was an older video from MSNBC, the one where Trump seems to think the F-35 fighter plane is actually invisible, rather than just invisible to radar. I thought it was hilarious. Helpful? No. Inspiring? Not so much. 


Additional Reading: 5 Ways to Build Your Child's Resilience in an Anxious World


Somehow the kids found me and crowded around:

“Is that Donald Trump?”

“What is he talking about?”

“Can a plane really be invisible?”

“What an idiot!”

It was not a great parenting moment. I struggle with kindness and, yes, I do blame Donald Trump. But I blame myself more because Trump has a strategy of bringing out the worst in people. But as a parent, it's up to me to rise above it.

For me, rising above is a challenge because I personally disagree with nearly everything the man says. And that's something I'm working on.

What’s more, my background is journalism and I believe ideas you agree or disagree with should be vigorously challenged and critiqued. Making fun of a sitting President is neither challenging, nor an example of thoughtful critique — it's just setting a bad example for the kids.

For guidance, I turn, of course, to that wonderful THINK mnemonic — particularly the questions of necessity and kindness. These days I tend to ask myself if I’m attacking the man’s personal failings or their consequences. Criticizing Trump’s inability to spell or his belief in invisible aircraft, for example, aren’t all that necessary or kind. These critiques don't demonstrate kindness to my kids, either. His immigration policies: Different story. Debating policy shows my kids that contrary opinions are worth discussing, and that our own ideas about bigger topics are valid, and worth exploring.

Do I feel like I'm doing a better job as a parent? It's a process.


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Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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