As the partial government shutdown quickly becomes just a memory, we as a country are working to put it all behind us: the news outlets are moving on to fresher stories, government workers are getting back into their groove at work, and national parks are being reopened like nothing happened. But should we move on so quickly?
Because of the shutdown, WIC benefits were in question, workers were furloughed, and dying children were denied medical treatment. Our country can do better. And as parents, we have a way to see to that by teaching our kids the basics of what happened. After all, as Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Let’s turn the government’s squabble into lessons about conflict, differences and decision making.
Although the situation was complex and nuanced, our children can learn from the major issues of the government’s recent disagreement. Here are 10 lessons we can teach our children using the government’s actions surrounding the shutdown as examples. Hopefully, our children can learn from their mistakes.
10 Things Our Kids Can Learn From The Government Shutdown
1. Really listen. How many times did one party try to talk to the other only to find they were talking to deaf ears? Yes, each has different ideas of how the country should be run, but it doesn’t mean that our opponents are devoid of good, reasonable ideas.
When a disagreement happens, we need to listen to what the other person is saying. Really listen. If someone comes to your child with a compromise, he or she must at least consider it before turning it away. Kids should know that they don’t have to compromise, but they do have to carefully consider what the other person is saying.
2. Look at the big picture. When members of the government allowed this shutdown, it affected the public in many significant ways. For some the changes were small: parks were closed, the panda cam was down, and NASA’s Twitter feed stopped. For others, the consequences were much more severe.
When kids make decisions, they need to think about how it will affect not only themselves, but others as well. Sometimes the decision will affect others more significantly than the people involved with the disagreement. The people most affected should be taken into consideration before actions are taken.
3. Name-calling is never appropriate. This hasn’t happened only during the shutdown, but name-calling seemed to be rampant during those 16 days. Some of the names that were slung during the shutdown were “coward”, “Hitler”, “tea party overlords”, and “lemmings in suicide vests”. The names were being used for dramatic effect, surely, but they hardly helped the situation.
Children should know that name-calling will not strengthen an argument; it only flares negative emotions. If your child really wants to resolve the conflict in their favor, tell him to skip calling his opponent names.
4. Stand up for what you think is right. Some members of the government stepped away from their party’s line to do what they thought was right.
Kids should know that they don’t have to choose the popular decision. They should make their own decisions and stick to them. They may catch some flack, but it’s worth it to be true to yourself.
5. Changing your mind about what is “right” is okay. Many of our politicians have a very strong and specific ideology. They tend to rarely waiver from how they think the country should be, even if it would be more ethical to look at the situation through unbiased eyes.
Your child needs to know that what they think is “right” today may not be what they think is “right” tomorrow. And that’s okay.
In fact, that’s good. As we gain more insight through experience, our ideas about how the world is and should be will change. And sticking to ideas and not allowing them to evolve will only lead to trouble. To this end, they should not only seek to win an argument, but to let it open their mind just a little.
6. Make sure it’s the hill you want to die on. It was clear that both sides decided that it was worth all of the risks and consequences to stick to their guns and allow the shutdown. And like many disagreements, there were some negative consequences. For example, during the shutdown the Republicans’ approval rating has fallen to the lowest in Gallup poll history.
Kids need to be ready for the consequences if they agree to participate in a disagreement. This does take some foresight, which kids have a hard time with as the prefrontal cortex of their brain is still developing. But it is a lesson worth learning for the future.
However, if they do weigh the risks and decide they are acceptable, they should proceed into the disagreement with all that they have.
7. Nobody wins in a standoff. Put in a simplified way, the shutdown was a result of a standoff between the parties. And although both parties thought that the disagreement was worth the consequences, the standoff and shutdown didn’t move the country forward in any way.
Kids should know that it’s fine to “agree to disagree”, but if they are holding things over each others’ heads while not moving forward with the conversation, no one wins. The argument cannot be resolved and, depending on the disagreement, everyone could suffer. See #2.
8. Disagreements are necessary for most major decisions. Even though this disagreement between parties caused problems, it doesn’t mean that disagreements are bad. The government of our country was built in a way of “checks and balances” where differences of opinion are welcome to arrive at the best decision for everyone.
Just like members of the government disagree over major issues, so do parents. When there is a big decision to be made, parents may discuss and disagree over what is right. And although disagreements can be troubling for kids to witness, civil disagreements are actually good for decision-making; They help us to think through the problem thoroughly and arrive at the best decision for everyone involved.
9. No one cares who started it. So whose fault was the shutdown? It depended on who from the government was being interviewed. But everyone had an opinion. And as the blame was thrown around, nothing was accomplished except getting those who were blamed more annoyed.
Shouting that the other person was the one who “started it” is just a diversion from the disagreement. It really doesn’t matter how you arrive at the disagreement, what matters are taking the actions to find a resolution. Remind kids to try to remain focused to come to a solution.
10. Helping others is always worth it. This doesn’t have to do with the government directly, but with the results of their actions. While our leaders were squabbling and causing negative consequences, we saw some heroes step out of the shadows to help those who needed it most during the shutdown. A couple donated $10 million to keep Head Start running so that kids could continue to get not only an education, but also assistance and meals. A bank in Colorado set aside $13 million for interest-free loans to furloughed workers until the shutdown ended. A food truck in Oklahoma gave furloughed workers free meals. Individuals volunteered their time and money to help others. A man from South Carolina even mowed the lawn of the Lincoln Memorial to keep it looking dignified during the government shutdown.
Even if we don’t agree with the decisions that have been made, we can help those who are affected. Kids need to know that we are members of a society, and it only works if we work together. And helping someone, even in a small way, can mean a great deal.
With the shutdown over and the country getting back into its normal routine, the government’s actions could be quickly forgotten. But let’s instead use them as a teaching tool to guide our children to better conflict resolution. The children who today are arguing over who got more cereal will someday be the leaders of our country. So let’s prepare them well.
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