Sometimes it’s hard to believe the nonsense that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth. He lies openly and often; he brags incessantly; he invents history; he spins conspiracy theories; and he changes his mind—often dramatically—in a moment’s notice. Only a few months into office, news organizations, diplomats far and wide, and even members of his own party have begun to refer to him as liar-in-chief. So, how do you explain this kind of president to children?
Can we just ignore him? Hardly! He’s front page news on a daily basis. Kids laugh at his brazenness. And their parents shrug, not knowing exactly how to deal with the problem of his boldface dishonesty and deceit, his deceptions and denigrations. Our children are clearly paying attention.
As I’ve written previously, 90 percent of our nation’s teachers believe Trump’s election has created a negative climate in their schools. Eighty percent of non-white students report that Trump’s election has raised serious fears in their lives. No particular locality is immune, though the politics of hate is especially on the rise in areas where economic hardship is confronting rapid social change.
Whether you hate or love Trump, most parents agree that his behavior and style of communication are not only un-presidential, but often immature, hostile, and provocative. He seems to be constantly looking for a fight to solve any and all of the problems that come his way. Trump now says that he was unprepared to deal with the intricacies of the job of president. And don’t think that’s not obvious to our kids. The example he is setting is clearly damaging.
Look, as parents, we all want our children to be courteous and considerate, thoughtful and hard-working. We want them to live a life based on the morals and character traits we value. We work hard to model the language, the behavior, the actions, and the principles we want them to practice. We chide them about swearing and scold them for being disrespectful; we confront their dishonesty, and we challenge their unkind behavior towards others. We are constantly trying to set them straight, and we are pleased and feel rewarded when they show that they have internalized pro-social behaviors.
Now, however, the behaviors that are being modeled by Trump and his minions are undermining those lessons for our kids. How does a parent teach that lying is not OK when our president and his people are distorting the truth so frequently? That being rude and name calling is unkind; that angrily walking out on a newspaper reporter because you don’t like the questions being asked is not only discourteous but mean-spirited.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” just doesn’t fly today. Children will do what they see others do, especially if it works, and it’s easy. They’re especially eager to emulate the rich and powerful. They see Trump getting his way, so why not imitate him?
Accepting Trump’s bad behavior without confronting it head-on is a mistake. It should not be something you simply get used to and accept. Trump’s rhetoric is not a new style of communication; it is meant to overwhelm by force and deception. We are in danger of raising too many children in this country who will not have the social and emotional intelligence to know how, when, and where to say what’s on their mind appropriately, and act in a suitable manner. Just because a person in power behaves a certain way, doesn’t make it right or ethical, or “presidential” (as Kellyanne Conway would have you believe).
After the Obama years, we’ve come to expect our president to be disciplined, to be a model of civility, and to do his/her best. So, it’s incumbent upon us to point out Trump’s inconsistency and irreverence when it occurs. Our kids will benefit when we take the time to explain and reflect on the behavior and language he uses to get his point across.
Use Trump’s presidency as a learning experience for your children. They will deeply appreciate your honesty and forthrightness and grow from it.