Talking politics with your kids: Advice for parents

With election season here, it’s hard to miss the onslaught of media coverage and chatter about political issues and candidates. While this is an important time for our country, it can be overwhelming for parents wondering how to talk to kids about politics.

“Politics are front and center right now, making it a great time to talk to kids about the democratic process,” says Dr. Mery Taylor, a CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist. “It’s not something that is abstract – we are all watching it unfold. Now that many kids are back in school, there is sure to be buzz about current events. It’s important for parents to get ahead of the information so they can be prepared.”

Starting a conversation with kids about politics

Dr. Taylor encourages parents to start with the basics. Here are some conversation starters she encourages parents to use:

  • What is a democracy?
  • What are the roles of people in elected office?
  • Why is this happening now?

Next, emphasize your personal responsibility as a citizen to vote, Dr. Taylor says.

“Talk to your kids about what it means to have elected officials that represent the diverse society we live in, and how that helps everybody,” she says. “Discuss the values that are important for your family. It is likely your children know who you will be voting for, but why?”

Parents can use a discussion on politics and the election as a way to model their critical thinking process for their children. To do that, Dr. Taylor encourages parents to talk about the values that shape their decision.

“Explain to your children the process of evaluating candidates’ policies and the impact of those policies on individuals, the environment and the American society as a whole,” Dr. Taylor says. “Children and adolescents are naturally curious creatures and you might be surprised by the questions that they will ask. You may find a conversation with your child or teen might even help you to articulate your own views more clearly.”

Parents can also tailor this conversation to their child’s personal interests, Dr. Taylor says.

“Focus on things that your child cares about. Are they passionate about saving turtles? Help them learn about candidates’ views on animal welfare. Do they want to be a business owner someday? Help them research candidates’ views on small business. Are they interested in health and science? Find out about the candidates’ policies on science and education funding,” Dr. Taylor says. “There are sure to be issues that speak to your child’s interest and help them feel connected to the election, and why politics matter as a whole.”

Share your plan to vote with your child. Take them along to the mailbox or polling station, depending on your voting plan.

How to deal with your child’s stress over the election

If you think your child is probably not affected by the election process, think again – this can be an overwhelming and stressful time for children and teens as well. Dr. Taylor offers the following tips for parents worried about how to talk to kids about politics:

  • Acknowledge your children’s feelings. Ask what they feel and why. Listen closely and try to connect with your child’s emotions before problem solving. If they have concerns or fears about a particular issue or how it may affect your family, reassure them that they are safe and that your family will work out any issue together.
  • Keep the conversation positive. Focus on the positive aspects of a candidate or an issue. Take this opportunity to explain to your kids how to voice their opinions with respect, even when he/she doesn’t agree with someone else. Talk about what you believe and why in a respectful way, too. For younger children, keep the conversation light. For teens, ask them what they’ve heard at school, and/or what they’re unclear about – their answers may surprise you.
  • Talk about the election process. Explain to them that everyone has a voice. While they may not be able to vote, encourage your kids to get involved at school or in the community with issues that are important to them, such as the environment or the economy, for example. Let them know their contributions can make a big difference.
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Talk Openly To Your Kids About Bullying

Bullying continues to make headlines around the country.  In particular, cyberbullying has become an increasingly common and serious issue largely due to the easy access, and in some cases the anonymity, of digital devices.

CHOC Children’s offers the following tips to help you start a conversation with your child around bullying, and guidelines to help you and your child combat bullying.

Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC, says one of the best ways to protect your children from bullying is to talk openly about it. “Have a discussion about why some kids might be bullies,” she says. “You can explain that most bullies have low self-esteem and that they bully other people to try to feel better about themselves.”

Dr. Heather Huszti
Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC Children’s

Dr. Huszti suggests asking your child open-ended questions such as, “Is there anything going on?” or “Is there anything I can help you with?” This approach usually works better than firing off a list of specific questions.

If you learn your child is being bullied, here are some additional steps you can take:

  • Inform your child’s school about the bullying.
  • Talk with the bully’s parents about the behavior.
  • Help your child build up his or her self-esteem. The better your child feels about herself, the less effect a bully will have on her overall well-being.
  • Be mindful of your child’s online activity.
  • Have a plan. Talk about what your child might do if he or she is bullied, including who to tell.
  • Pay close attention to signs from your child that may show something is wrong, such as acting withdrawn, sad or irritable, or changes in their sleep or appetite. Keep in mind however, that sometimes kids will not display any signs at all so it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your child.
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How to Help Your Child Navigate the Emotional Aftermath of a Traumatic Event

By Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychology post-doctoral fellow at CHOC Children’s

It’s difficult for adults to make sense of a tragedy, so consider how difficult it can be for children. To help parents support their children as they navigate trauma either in their own lives or process a tragic event they see on the news, consider the five E’s of helping a child navigate the emotional aftermath of a traumatic event: 

  • Explore what your child already knows in a gentle and calm manner. You can start with a neutral question inquiring about how their school day was or if anything happened while they were at school.
  • Explain what has happened in a way that your child can understand based on his/her age.
    • This is the time to address any misinformation your child might have picked up at school and help them understand that a scary thing did happen, but also reassure their sense of safety as schools and adults work hard to keep their children safe on daily basis.
    • Limit information that you provide to your child to the questions that they ask you, so that you avoid overwhelming them with information that they may not already have been exposed to.
    • You can provide examples of ways you and others in your community keep your child safe every day (i.e., how when you drop them off at school in the morning and you look both ways before crossing the road, how doctors are working hard to help the children that have been hurt).
  • Express to your child that feelings are normal and it is okay to feel sad, mad or angry when a tragic event occurs. Remember to reduce media exposure after a traumatic event, as repeated exposure to the event has been associated with psychological distress and intensifying already heightened emotions.
  • Emotionally model for your child healthy expression of feelings as children take their cues from their parents. Describe how you cope with your distressing emotions to your child (i.e., When I feel scared when something bad happens to me, I talk about it with someone who makes me feel safe or I take three deep breaths).
  • Ensure stability by continuing to adhere to your child’s daily routine. This will provide them with a sense of reassurance and safety during a chaotic time. Engaging in a daily routine is not meant to ignore what has happened, rather to continue to provide the child with structure, stability, and predictability.

If you are struggling to help your child process a traumatic event, or if you feel your child could benefit from additional support, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist.

Below are a few additional resources on coping with trauma that I often share with my patients and their families:

Helping Children Survive the Aftermath– Florida International University

Mobile App: PTSD Family Coach– U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Responding to a School Crisis– The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Resources for Parents and Caregivers– The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Helping Traumatized Children: A Brief Overview for Caregivers– Child Trauma Academy

Tragic Events: Parent Resources – The Fred Rogers Company

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CHOC Children’s Announces Plans to Address Pediatric Mental Health Crisis

CHOC Children's Mental Health Inpatient CenterCommunity leaders and executives from CHOC Children’s recently announced a transformative initiative to ensure children and adolescents with mental illness receive the health care services and support they currently lack in Orange County’s fragmented system of care.

One in five children experience a diagnosable mental health condition during childhood — about 150,000 children in Orange County alone; yet there are no psychiatric inpatient beds for patients under 12 years in Orange County . Due to the absence of designated space to treat young patients, sometimes children with serious mental health episodes remain in the emergency department for days at a time. In addition, there aren’t enough inpatient psychiatric beds for adolescents either, with many needing to be hospitalized outside of Orange County.

“We recognize that pediatric mental illness has become a nationwide epidemic, and are committed to ending it,” Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, CHOC president and chief executive officer, said. “CHOC and our partners are excited by the opportunity to create a scalable model for pediatric mental health care that other communities nationwide can replicate.”

Establishing a Caring, Healing Home for Children in O.C.

Children’s advocate Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, managing partner, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, donated a $5 million lead gift to help establish CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center. The new center will provide a safe, nurturing place for children ages 3 to 18 to receive care for mental health conditions. It will also provide specialty programming for children ages 11 and younger.

CHOC Children's Mental Health Inpatient CenterLocated on the third floor of CHOC’s Research Building, the Center will feature:

  • 18 beds in a secure, healing environment
  • Outdoor area for recreation
  • Specially trained pediatric staff

Construction is expected to begin by fall 2015 and finish in late 2017.

CHOC has launched a fundraising campaign to raise $11 million for inpatient capital and startup costs, and $16 million to endow the program. CHOC is raising additional funds for outpatient mental health services.


1 in 5 children experience a diagnosable mental health condition during childhood.


Recognizing the urgency to help meet the community’s need, last fall CHOC and Rick and Kay Warren, co-founders of Saddleback Church formed a taskforce — led by Dr. Maria Minon, CHOC chief medical officer, and Dr. Heather Huszti, CHOC chief psychologist, and comprised of community leaders, educators and faith-based advisors — to begin discussing a comprehensive pediatric system of care for patients with mental illness.

CHOC’s support of the pediatric system of care includes:

  • expanding mental health services this year for CHOC patients being treated for serious/chronic illnesses (these children are more likely to have mental health problems, such as depression and severe anxiety, than their healthier peers);
  • opening an intensive outpatient program in 2016 to keep struggling children out of the hospital and assist those who have been released;
  • expanding CHOC’s outpatient eating disorders program by 2016;
  • and continuing to facilitate and work on multiple county-wide projects with the task force.

“We know our plans are ambitious, but they are critical and life-saving. The vision begins with establishing a caring home at CHOC for our children and families to turn to for help,” said Cripe.

To learn how to support CHOC’s mental health campaign, please visit www.choc.org/mentalhealthgiving.

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Help! I Don’t Like My Teen’s Date

Your 16-year-old daughter’s new boyfriend is sullen and disagreeable. What do you do? And when should a parent really become concerned about their teens’ romantic relationships?

Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s who specializes in issues relating to adolescent development and treatment, says parents need to reflect before acting.

He recommends parents ask themselves some questions: What is it that I don’t like about this boy? Is this a case where no one is good enough for my daughter or I want her to have the “perfect” boyfriend? Or, is this something really worrisome like he’s a drug user?

“If it’s something that is really severe, and the parents conclude there is something wrong with that child, prepare your child first,” Dr. Min says. “Tell her, ‘This is what I see and I don’t like.’ Perhaps talk to your child about it and tell her that maybe it’s not the best time for this relationship. Try to discourage the relationship.”

Dr. Min offered the following tips for handling teens’ love lives:

  • Once you notice your teen is interested in romance, discuss –your family’s standards, beliefs, expectations and values with regard to dating and sexual activity.
  • Be honest with teens about their relationships and the people they are dating.
  • Seek help from mentors or other parents with older kids who have experienced these situations. Develop a support network of other parents for advice.
  • No one knows a child better than his or her parents, so trust your instincts about your child, especially if you notice a significant change of mood.
  • Give your teen the opportunity to share. Ask open-ended questions and listen. If they don’t want to talk when you approach them, give them some time and leave the door open for future discussions should your teen change his/her mind.
  • If you see signs of injury or abuse in your teen, or if he or she talks about hurting herself or taking his own life, seek immediate medical/psychiatric help at your closest emergency room or call 911.

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