Why You Should Turn the Impeachment Inquiry Into a Civics Lesson

Lisa Milbrand

For only the third time in history, the U.S. Congress is conducting an impeachment inquiry. (Only Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton faced the inquiry—Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment could begin.) And that means this is a perfect opportunity to help your child (and you) get a crash course in our country's Constitution and have some pretty interesting conversations about ethics, to boot. If you're looking to answer your child's questions, here's what you need to know.

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/AFP/Getty Images Bill Taylor (L) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia George Kent (R) are sworn in to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald J. Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on November 13, 2019.

1. Make sure you understand the facts.

Impeachment can be complicated, as evidenced by the number of people who get key facts about the inquiry wrong."The one thing people get wrong most often about impeachment is that it removes the president from office," says Cormac O'Brien, author of Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents. "It doesn't. Impeachment is the process by which the House of Representatives formally calls into question the conduct of the president, which leads to a trial in the Senate in which witnesses are called and evidence weighed. Only the Senate, by a vote of two-thirds, can remove the president from office."

2. Turn it into a civics lesson. 

"This is a great opportunity to watch our government in action and use that as a springboard to explain the branches of government, checks, and balances, and representation, as well as significant social issues," says educational advocate Caitlin Meister. "There are age-appropriate ways to approach the topic, which will vary depending on your child's age." A 5-year-old may only be able to comprehend that people are reviewing what the President did to make sure that he was doing what was best for our country, while a 15-year-old with a few U.S. history courses under her belt can have a more nuanced discussion with you.

3. Use the topic as a springboard to talk about the values that are important to you.

"My recommendation with any challenging material is for parents to decide what underlying theme they want to focus on," Meister says. "What resonates with your family values? Use that to decide how to talk with your kids about the issue. Do you want to emphasize personal responsibility? Civic engagement? Compassion? Being an ally and amplifying marginalized voices? Let your family's values guide how you discuss the challenging topic with your child while recognizing that others may have different values."

4. Don't force it. 

Give your child an opportunity to express how they feel and what they're thinking about the issue, before you chime in with your own take. "Once he's had time to consider and explore an issue, I don't shy away from sharing my perspective on the situation," Meister says. "Children learn from what the adults around them model, and I model the type of consideration and citizenship that I hope my children grow up to embrace and even improve upon. If you have strong thoughts and feelings on the topic, share them, and model for your child how to honor your own strong feelings while still holding space for the experience of others."

As the process continues, you can gauge how much interest your child has in the impeachment process, and let that inform how in-depth you bring the conversation. You don't have to force the topic, you can let your child's curiosity guide you.