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How to Explain Impeachment to Kids

You think the kids haven't noticed all the adults in their lives are preoccupied with impeachment? They do, and you need to clue them in. Here's how to have the talk.

Every news outlet in America is currently preoccupied with President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry. That’s as it should be considering how important the battle over impeachment is for the political health of our nation. But that battle, played out over screens and speakers, is also nasty, emotional, partisan, and genuinely confusing. Think of what it looks like to a young kid. In all likelihood, kids will be exposed to impeachment news, and given the complexity and tenor of that news it’s unlikely they will understand it. So, what’s a parent to say when a young kid starts asking questions about whistleblowers and impeachment? The answer is clear: Parents should say very little, very honestly, with the least emotion possible. 

Preschoolers and kindergartners don’t have a very nuanced view of politics, but that doesn’t mean that have zero knowledge about how America is run. After all, popular picture books like Duck for President or Arthur Meets the President find their way into Pre-K classrooms giving kids a rudimentary knowledge of the executive branch. So too do lessons about Independence Day and the founding fathers of America. The youngest kids aren’t ignorant of civics and they become more aware with every year in school. 

So it would make sense for a kid to be curious about impeachment. That curiosity is ramped up further when moms and dads display a particular passion or disgust for the subject. And based on a parent’s emotion, a preschooler or kindergartner could get pretty worried about what they’re hearing on the news. 

“Three-year-olds are not developmentally ready to assimilate adult issues like politics into their understanding of the world,” explains Child Development Consultant and Parent Educator Ann Mckitrick. “However, they are very attuned to the emotions of the important adults in their life and if those people are upset, they may ask what’s going on or demonstrate uncertainty by becoming easily frustrated, crying, or angry.” 

Mckitrick notes that parents can combat any emotional strain the news might engender by taking the opportunity to convey a simple message: “I am here. You are safe. You can play.”  

Honestly, offering solace and love should be enough. But parents should not skimp on honesty when direct questions about the proceedings are asked, explains Mckitrick. “When my daughter was 6-years-old, the Clinton-Lewinsky story was at its height. She asked me, ‘Mom, what did President Clinton do wrong?’. My reply was, ‘He kissed a woman who was not his wife and lied about it.’ That simple explanation was sufficient, she understood it was wrong to lie. She didn’t need to know all the details of the story.”

That simplicity is key when it comes to honest answers, according to Dr. Carole Lieberman, author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror. She notes there is no need to complicate matters. 

“You can reassure them by saying that nobody is going to physically hurt the President. In fact, he may still be President when this is all over,” Lieberman says. “It’s just about people who belong to one group called Democrats, not agreeing with the other group, called Republicans, about how this country should be run.”

Lieberman also notes, if parents want, they can speak to how the process shows that people can talk about disagreements without getting too angry or physical. And while there’s no need to make the discussion partisan, she acknowledges parents might not be able to keep their views on impeachment in check. For these parents, she offers a softer version of political tribalism.

Depending upon which side you’re on, you might want to say it’s important not to be a sore loser and try to ruin it for the person who wins,” Lieberman suggests. “Alternately, you might want to say it’s important to do a good job, and recognize that if you don’t do a good job, there may be people who want to fire you.”

Whatever a parent says, it’s important that they say it with emotions in check. And it’s also important to remain truthful and age-appropriate while offering reassurance that they are safe. Kids thrive on stability, even when, in the case of impeachment, the news makes it sound like the government is falling down.