Kids in Seattle have questions about the teacher strike. Here's a guide on how to handle them.

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When the first day of school was canceled, children probably needed little explanation — hooray, longer summer! But now that children are going back to school soon, they’re likely to ask why.

Should parents explain the Seattle teachers strike to their kids? Experts say yes, but in a way that avoids blame and creates a teachable moment. The depth of that explanation should be tailored to the age of the child; younger kids need broader strokes, while older kids might wonder about the specifics. In any case, parents should be prepared for the questions the kids ask.

“Things get confusing for kids when they see conflict, but no one is talking about it,” says Sarina Behar Natkin, who co-owns GROW Parenting in Seattle.

Here’s a suggested road map:

“What is a strike?”

Even the youngest elementary-school kids can understand the concept of a strike, says Charles White, associate professor in social-studies education at Boston University. The dictionary definition will do. From Merriam-Webster:

strike verb \ˈstrīk\ to stop work in order to force an employer to comply with demands

“Even younger kids often feel they’re not being listened to and they wonder what they can do about that,” White says. “A strike is a way to get everyone’s attention so everyone will start talking about a problem and come up with a solution.”

“But my dad says teachers are breaking the law.”

White says parents should make clear that a teachers strike is a last resort. “If you think an issue is so important that a law has to be broken, you have to accept the consequences.”

“Whose fault is it?”

“You always want to avoid a situation that in your explanation you’re portraying your opponents as the bad guys,” White says. “That’s not the teachable thing. The teachable thing is that people can disagree, so they get together to talk about it, and a strike is one of the ways groups of people do that.”

Furthermore, parents should make sure to assure kids that they didn’t do anything wrong.

“It’s important with young children to make clear that the strike doesn’t have anything to do with them,” Natkin says. “It’s not that the teachers didn’t want to teach them.”

Going further

With older children, the strike can be a part of a broader lesson in social studies. Parents can point to historic strikes, like the great Southwest railroad strike and the Memphis Sanitation strike.

The strike also has constitutional implications (Thursday is Constitution Day). Parents can discuss constitutional issues like the freedom of speech and assembly.

Seattle teachers, undoubtedly, will also find the strike’s teachable moments when students return to class.