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The walls have ears – How does political debate or “adult” dialogue impact on young children’s lives?

Rita Melia


Tuesday 01 November 2016

It is just amazing how much children hear or assimilate. Watching children engrossed in play one would not expect they are aware of all the things happening or being said in their surrounding environment. I think back to my own childhood and I am struck by recollections which are embedded in my mind as a result of overhearing conversations between adults. You were never told, you just heard!! Not eaves dropping, just present during the conversation which was not for children’s ears. I did hear the conversations and the content of these conversations influenced the opinions I formed about people, places, things and events in an adult world.


As I am here in Boston for my Fulbright Scholarship, I attended a seminar; Innovations in Early childhood, at Lesley University Boston. The seminar was titled:

"If Trump wins, my family will have to go back to El Salvador…" Talking to Young Children about the Election (and other challenging topics)


The discussion at the seminar reflected how we as educators support children to navigate and express their opinions, worries ritablog2and /or fears? We were questioning if we reflect sufficiently on the impact and influence on children’s wellbeing of political and policy debate, wherever we are in the world?


The reality in Ireland, the US or any country is that children are exposed to conversations and discussions which potentially impact on their lives and wellbeing and they are trying to make sense of what they are hearing. Some of the comments that educators made to highlight children’s concerns in US preschools and schools included:  “How are you going to stop the wall” William age 7 years asked.


Other comments from children included: “I think it is unfair that Trump wants native Americans to leave this country” and “Hillary is a liar; she will have to go to jail”.

An educator spoke about a child having nightmares in case his family is sent back to Bangladesh. Children are having conversations in school and in preschool with their friends, they are confused and in many cases frightened. Other challenging questions children ask were highlighted; “Your mom wears a scarf over her face, does that mean she is a terrorist” asked a 4 year old. Another young child said “The police are bad they took my uncle away”.



I am sure as early childhood professionals in Ireland you have been asked questions which  challenge you.


 Encouraging children to ask questions and providing a safe space for children to work things out is important.  Children need to know that the educator has time and will listen respectfully to their questions and discussions. As educators we listen with our ears but we also take notice  of children’s body language and affirm their feelings and emotions. We can try to answer  children’s questions, but sometimes we do not know the answer. It’s ok to say “I don't know,  but we will figure it out together”. Working with families is crucial, talking with parents about  their child’s concerns and working together to ensure that the child feels safe and knows that  he/ she has someone to talk to. Seeing the child as competent and recognising the child’s need  to know about the macro influences which affect his or her life makes a good educator a great  educator!!

Please share your thoughts on supporting children to understand things happening in the world.

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