How on earth can I explain Donald Trump to my four-year-old?
My older son knows who Iron Man is. He’s aware that, when Spider-Man removes his mask, he becomes Peter Parker. And, thanks to my husband’s tireless efforts, he can recite all the lyrics to Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones.
But he doesn’t yet know who Donald Trump is.
This is fair. I mean, the boy is only four. I grew up in the 1980s, but I didn’t know who Ronald Reagan was until I was at least nine, and even then I confused him with Val Doonican. However, given all the coverage this week’s presidential state visit will attract, my son might at least know the name Donald Trump by the end of this week – and I’m wondering how to tackle the topic.
How do I explain that Donald Trump is separating children younger than my son from their parents? Or that he thinks it’s acceptable to hurt women and brown people – particularly given that I’m his mother, and I’m both brown, and a woman?
How do I do any of this without giving my child night-terrors or unintentionally subscribing him to my particular world view before he can question it himself?
I’ve decided to let him make up his own mind.
My husband and I have kicked up our basic “don’t push, don’t snatch” parental messaging now that primary school’s just months away, and are now trying to drive home the importance of behaving in a way that’s inclusive, and compassionate, and decent.
Mainly we do this through stories, by exploring characters’ motivations and inviting him to do the same. “Why did the wolf blow the house down?” He’ll ask while we’re reading, which will spark a chat about the wolf’s motives, the pigs’ reactions, everyone’s emotions, and what the wolf might have done differently (“Get your own house, silly wolf!”).
Through this approach he knows that because The Tiger Who Came To Tea behaved greedily, Sophie and her family had to buy more dinner; that Rudolph felt lonely and ashamed when he wasn’t allowed to play reindeer games; and that because Ultron was so convinced his vision for world peace was correct, he failed to see what he was destroying in the process (we provide our children with a broad media diet).
Recently, a friend and I were talking about Donald Trump building his wall – and my son chimed in with the sage advice that he should probably avoid using hay or sticks to do so, because bricks are stronger.
So I know he’s absorbing the stories; I hope he’s learning to examine behaviour, too. Because eventually he’ll be able to turn that critical eye to Trump, and – quite without having to parrot his parents’ politics – he’ll see for himself how little decency, compassion and inclusivity the president displays in what he says and does, even away from policy-making.
Maybe then he’ll understand the passion and outrage behind all this week’s anti-Trump protests.
Or maybe he’ll just see the giant orange baby balloon and assume we’re watching CBeebies. And if that’s the case, that’s fine.
After all, we have a younger son – so we’ll get a second pass at his older brother the next time we introduce the concept of human decency and what it looks like.