I don’t want to think about, talk about, or write about the election. Yet somehow all I can think about, talk about, and write about these days is the election. As much as being with children and observing their wonder-filled ways of exploring their environment and living in the moment provides a refreshing escape, the current political climate seems to constantly permeate everything that surrounds us these days.
I found myself incredibly frustrated after the first presidential debate a few weeks ago, when countless people and publications compared adult politicians to arguing toddlers. We should not use such accusations as insults, for toddlers are so much better than that. Sure, children are loud, they shout and they try to be heard and get their point across. That is related to what we are doing in school—working on our collaboration and communication skills. But our children are empathetic, they are thoughtful, they are kind and curious, they can be wrapped up in their own needs at times but they are not inherently uncaring or malicious. They want to share their ideas and be heard, but they also want to listen to others and connect with those around them.
Earlier this week, one of our oldest students asked a classmate what he was building with the blue blocks, listened to his description of his “machine,” then picked up some blocks of his own and said, “I’m going to build next to you!” Another day, I witnessed one of our youngest non-verbal students in the infant class eagerly grab a toy that another baby was using, then stare with curiosity as her face changed and she began to cry, the toy falling from his hand (granted, this was probably due to surprise at her reaction more so than any desire to return the toy. But it was clear he was exercising his empathy skills, and starting to figure out a connection between his own actions and the feelings of others.)
Let’s give our children the credit they deserve—they are thoughtful, capable, compassionate humans. And they are learning how to function as collaborative members of a collective democratic society, in the microcosm of our classrooms. They are learning to listen and respond, to share their ideas, and to register and react to the feelings and needs of others.
Two years ago, we were all enthralled with the confirmation hearings of a different Supreme Court justice than the most recent court addition, and certain accusations that arose. At that time, I wrote an article about gender and respect in early childhood, which I still feel, unfortunately but inevitably, is extremely relevant today. You can find that here:
So, when politicians and other adults act in selfish or socially inappropriate ways, let’s not compare them to children. For children are, in fact, some of the most collaborative and hopeful citizens we have. And this election and current political climate does include and affect them; some of the most important issues at stake, such as community health and safety, social justice, and taking care of the earth and climate, are topics that our children can already relate to and that will inevitably play strong roles in their lives. In fact, our main curriculum this school year is, understandably, about caring for ourselves and others; we are asking the children to think daily about the wellbeing of everyone in our community and the world around us. So even if talking with children offers an escape from the overwhelming stress of this election season, it’s not inappropriate to think about it around them, and to just remind ourselves that we are already helping them find the tools to do good in the world. This starts with asking a friend about their structure, or noticing a peer’s sad face. These are the building blocks for becoming successful members of a collaborative society, and our children are naturally empathetic and quick at learning these necessary skills. Let’s not insult them by comparing them to belligerent politicians. Instead, let’s celebrate them for trying to understand their friends and connect with the world around them.