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Originally published Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Should parents argue politics in front of kids?

The Parent 'Hood: Should children be around when adults are deep in a political debate? Or will they think the disagreement is actual fighting?

Chicago Tribune

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If you can disagree respectfully, without raising your voices, and settle peaceably... MORE
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You and your spouse have serious ideological differences: Should you argue in front of the kids or swear off politics?

Parent advice (from our panel of staff contributors):

Toddlers and young kids won't understand the concept of political debate. To them, it's mom and dad fighting. But if you frame it as what it is — a political discussion — older kids should not only listen, but maybe be drawn in. Don't make them take sides, but ask them their thoughts. Anything that stimulates critical thinking is to be embraced.

— Bill Hageman

If your political discourse sounds like, "that's a valid point, but to me the larger issue is ." then have at it, and let the kids see how civil discourse can work. If you advance arguments by belittling what your opponent says, please take it outside.

Here's another tip: If your kids can't tell the difference between your disagreements and actual fighting, likely neither can your friends.

— Phil Vettel

I think it would be great to show kids that people who love each other can have different views. It's human nature to think that the people who have different views than you do are uneducated, ignorant or bad. The perspective that the views are simply different is a great one to share.

— Dodie Hofstetter

Expert advice:

Parents with opposing viewpoints have a golden opportunity to shape their children into accommodating, thoughtful beings, say Debbie Devine and Michelle Tingler, co-founders of O-Mama.com, a website designed to get parents talking constructively about hot-button issues.

"Politics can get ugly," says Devine. "As parents, we have to take a higher stand and choose our words a little more carefully and hone our arguments in a way that is logical and less emotional.

"If we can model that behavior to our kids," she says, "then when they are thinking through these issues and talking to their friends about them maybe they won't immediately go to the ugly and they'll go instead to the constructive."

Rational thought and respectful debate are not skills they're likely to learn from politicians, after all. Or TV pundits. Or bloggers — or just about any one else discussing politics.

"Our media tend to reward the nasty and the ugly and the bad behavior," says Tingler. "As parents, we're constantly trying to reward the positive behavior, ignore the tantrums and correct the bad behavior. But on TV the loudest and angriest and most abrasive gets the most attention."

You and your spouse can be the antidote. "Kids are used to having disagreements with their friends," says Devine. "They're used to having to find ways to resolve things and sometimes agree to disagree. If they see you do that at home, that will make sense to them."

And remind them that there's more than one way to look at an issue.

"It's great for them to know we live in a country where people don't agree all the time," Devine says, "but we can all still live together and have common goals and values, even though we don't agree all the time how to get there."

Have a solution? You find yourself drawn more to social media sites than your kids. When do you know you've got a problem? Email us at parenthood@tribune.com.

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