Politics. Religion. Race. Masks. How Do We Influence Our Kids?

Apparently there is an election coming up later this year.  Anyone else hear about this?  (Insert sarcastic emoji).  I recently received the happy news that I have been randomly drafted to be an election worker the day of the presidential election.  It should be an interesting experience.  While discussing this at the dinner table, our older son had many questions.  Who is running for president?  Who do we like?  How do they win?  It has been very educational for him.  However, with all the discussion and inquiries, it is hard to keep out personal biases.  

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This has led to some significant influences on how he talks about the election.  During bath the other night he mentioned how he hoped one candidate would win over the other.  He exclaimed how terrible it would be if the other candidate won.  “Why?”  I asked him.  He didn’t really have an answer.  It was just what everyone else was saying.  He wanted to make sure both mom and I would each have our own chance to vote to ensure his specific candidate would win.  “Did you know sometimes mom and dad vote for different people?” I asked him. This idea completely blew his mind.  How could mom and I NOT have the same beliefs when it came to all things election based? 

The last few months have led to a lot of division in our country, including subjects involving politics, race, gender, and wearing a mask. Somehow these topics have intersected with one another. It seems like we have a lot of opinions that NEED to be heard.  With these opinions grows discussion.  These discussions become arguments; and amongst all of the yelling out there our kids are watching, listening, and learning.  How is this influencing our kids?  

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An important concept to understand is that from around the age of 2 through 6 (and sometimes on to 12-13 years old) a child’s brain is functioning in a brain wave pattern known as theta waves.  As adults we typically only have these theta waves when we are sleeping or just waking up.  You may also see them when doing deep meditation or hypnosis.  Some studies have even shown higher spikes of theta waves in adults who are sleep deprived.  But in children they access these brain wave patterns while awake.  This relates to our subconscious mind as well as our imaginations and fantastical ideas.  It makes kids hyper-learners, absorbing everything going on around them.  The mapping of underlying fears, beliefs, hopes, and identities begin to be shaped and molded.  

In a previous post, I discussed how to help your child shape their identity.  This is possible thanks to these theta waves.  Ever notice how your kids tend to fear the same things you do?  The subconscious has imprinted this fear over time based on their experiences with you as their model.  They accept everything you say as fact, which is why many kids this age have difficulty understanding sarcasm or a play-on-words.  Our religious upbringings, social situations, political beliefs, and other key factors that comprise our sense-of-self are coded before we even understand what they mean.  

As the current climate of our country and world continues to escalate, we are seeing an increase in fighting, name calling, bullying, and other extreme tactics on various sides of the aisle.  This includes competing political parties, religions, race, sexual orientation, and even the act of wearing a mask.  As we argue, our subconscious gets triggered.  Our upbringing is challenged, and the only way our brain knows how to cope is to fight back.  Find another person who believes the same way you do?  Congratulations.  Your subconscious just got reinforced.  Are you experiencing another person with completely different viewpoints from your own?  This could trigger a defense mechanism.  

This doesn’t mean that by age 6 our kids are doomed to an existence of whatever happened at the dinner table last week.  They are still learning.  As I mentioned above, we still see these theta waves in kids into their early teen years.  After the age of 6 they develop more alpha waves, allowing for critical thinking about the world around them.  This allows us not to only play on the theta waves, but we may also utilize their alpha waves to help them learn more about different situations.  The role of helping our kids become the person we want them to be is a long process – one that should never be taken lightly.  

Early in life you can focus on simple phrases.  When speaking about other people and their differences, you can say things like, “Everyone is different and that is a wonderful thing,” or “God loves all of us no matter what.”  Whatever your message is meant to be, focus on it.  Use it in various situations.  As they get older, you can start to challenge them a little bit.  Instead of simply making a statement, ask them how a certain situation makes them feel.  If they mention something on the news like politics, protests, etc, first see how they feel about it.  Simple direct questions can be key, and then you can branch out from there.  This allows your child to explore their subconscious beliefs and mold them into a more complex understanding as they age.  

It is sometimes difficult to keep our mouths shut around our kids.  We may say something that contradicts everything we are trying to teach them.  If that happens, take ownership of it.  It is ok to explain to your child that sometimes mommy or daddy says things that they shouldn’t have said and explain why.  We are all imperfect parents.  For instance, I remember driving on the highway and a car sped by me.  The boys were in the back seat, and I said something slightly under my breath about how unsafe or terrible that was to do.  

Of course the boys heard me and quickly jumped to my defense, stating how that person should get a speeding ticket and shouldn’t be allowed to drive.  Although I don’t want my boys to think speeding is ok when they get behind the wheel, I also recognized that I didn’t know that driver’s particular mindset.  After the boys finished their rant, I calmly stated, “You boys are right. They shouldn’t be speeding.  It isn’t safe.  However, we don’t know their situation.  Maybe someone they know got hurt really bad and they are rushing to the hospital.  Daddy shouldn’t have gotten so frustrated with them.”  In this case I still allowed for the concept of speeding to take hold as a bad thing (theta waves), but I also allowed for the empathetic connection to the person’s action to occur (alpha waves).  We don’t think of these simple interactions as being so complex, but they are. 

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The world we live in is a beautiful and intricate landscape of varying people, races, beliefs, and practices.  We can raise our kids to appreciate these differences, or we can cause them to narrow their view and live within a restricted subconscious of hate and prejudice.  It really is up to us as their parents and role models.  We may not be able to control everything they see and hear, but we can try to help them understand it.

I challenge everyone to start viewing the interactions you have with your kids with the following in mind: How am I playing on their theta brain waves and subconscious development?  This simple thought can thoroughly affect the way we interact with our kids. But don’t forget to also just enjoy the moment.

Embrace the Imperfection

Imperfect Dad, MD      

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