How To Talk About This 'Unholy Mess' Of A Brexit With Your Kids

We advise props. Lots of props.

How do you explain Brexit to children when even grown ups don’t know what the hell is going on?

This is the dilemma many parents are facing, especially those with inquisitive kids like mine, the type who don’t seem to stop asking questions from the moment they wake up (“where does my brain go when it’s in a dream?”) to the time they go to sleep (“what if a bear sneaks into our house and steals all the brioche?”)

I’m a big fan of the answer, “I don’t know – but I’ll find out”, especially for the really hard stuff, the stuff you have to Google, like: “if you got stuck inside an ice cube, would your head snap off?” That kind of question.

But when it comes to Brexit... I’m stumped. I can’t even begin to explain what’s happened or is happening next, because truth be told, I’m not sure myself.

I try to keep my kids up to date with current affairs, and don’t shy away from telling them things they should be aware of, even terror attacks (with age-appropriate language and censoring, of course). I’d rather be in charge of explaining the nuances of a news story myself than leaving it to playground politicians.

But it can be hard to think of how to get into the nitty-gritty of the UK political system, unless you have these two essentials: a clear understanding of it yourself, and props. Lots of props.

When Britain ended up with a hung parliament in 2017, I found myself creating a teddy-bear version of Westminster, featuring The Gruffalo, Totoro and the witch from Room On The Broom (I’ll leave it to you to work out which one was Theresa May).

Hung Parliament/Victoria Richards

But Brexit... damn, it’s difficult. During the 2016 EU referendum I explained the outcome to my daughter by saying: “We used to be friends with Europe. But now some people don’t want to be friends with Europe anymore.” Her response was telling: “But why don’t they want to be friends? Isn’t it nicer to be friends with everybody?” My five-year-old sage.

I asked other parents how they had explained the current furore over Brexit (at the time of writing, MPs have voted to delay Brexit and we don’t know definitively when – or if – it’ll happen.)

Some said they watched CBBC’s Newsround or read ‘The Week’ Junior Magazine with their kids to explain what’s going on, while others said they’d talked about Brexit as “some people in the country deciding to leave a team and play on their own”.

One friend told me she’d found it “semi-useful” to explain what was going on using a map of UK and Ireland, so her children – aged nine and 12 – could see the border issues and “how we’ve fallen into such an unholy mess”.

Another said she tried – but got through half a sentence and gave up. “It doesn’t make any sense and I can’t make it make sense,” she said.

But for some people, whose lives are set to change dramatically once Britain leaves the EU, explaining the ‘why’ of Brexit is one of the hardest conversations they’ll ever have to have.

One stay-at-home mother had to warn her seven-year-old son that because his father is an Italian national, he now had to choose between moving the whole family to Paris – or losing his job.

“There’s a good chance we will leave the UK and go back to Italy,” she told me. “My son will have to leave his house, his school and his friends. His English grandparents voted Brexit. I am not going to sugarcoat this for him and absolve them. Actions have consequences. Every vote counts.”

But perhaps a six-year-old sums it up best. When my friend explained the concept of Brexit – and Brexiteers – her son responded with a frown. “It’s a bit silly,” he said. “They obviously don’t understand how things work.”

From the mouths of babes...