Certainly the outcome of the election gives new meaning to the words parents have told their growing children forever: “You can be the president; anyone can be president.” What an election surprise.
Regardless of for whom you voted, many parents are wondering how to explain the election to their kids. Not only must parents deal with and explain their own feelings, but you need to deal with your children’s questions and expressions of their feelings, fear and safety included.
A parent wrote to me this morning, “My child was crying hysterically this morning, worrying that her beloved nanny would have to leave our family and go back to Mexico.”
Another wrote that upon hearing the news, her child asked, “When are we moving the Canada?”
And how do you explain the election results to your child when you have been simplifying the presidential race by saying what would happen if Trump or Clinton were elected?
Now is the time to step back and think of what your child, depending upon his age and development, needs to hear.
- Listen to your child. What is he asking? What is he worried about? What does he (and doesn’t he) need to know? Answer what he is asking only. Less is more. Wait before you talk. Listen and respond.
- Model good sportsmanship. Your child is watching you to know how to react and to feel. Your child needs an explanation and needs to see how you deal with your disappointment (or happiness.) If you are a Trump fan, being a good sport means that you don’t “Na na na” the Clinton supporters. If you are a Clinton fan, now is the time to practice what you preach to your child every Saturday at soccer. Take the high road, it is the best choice.
- Share with your child Obama and Clinton’s post-election responses. Both of these people gave “good sport speeches.”
- Look for the positive. Hard as it is to find or feel it, children need to hear something positive. The doomsday script it not good for children.
- It’s okay to be sad in front of your child. Politics are emotional. You may have strong feelings. Your children need to learn about that too. You can explain how much you wanted Clinton to win, and now you are so disappointed. Let him know that you do have strong feelings and that you will feel better after a while. It takes you some time to get used to the election news. But you will be okay. Be sure to tell him when you are feeling better.
- Your child needs to feel safe. Helping your child to know he is safe is your primary job. You may not actually, wholeheartedly believe it, but your child needs to feel that. No more stories about all the terrible things that might happen. You will be okay.
- The civics lesson is critical. Children need to know that a president is not a dictator. Our government has checks and balances (and yes, I know that both the Senate and the Congress now have Republican majorities). No one person can make a decision for the whole country. There is a process. Decisions are made only after thoughtful considerations and votes. Trump may have said a wall will be built and Mexico will pay for it, but no one thinks it will actually happen that way, just because Trump said so.
- Explain election posturing. Explain to your children how people make all kinds of promises that they may or may not be able to fulfill if elected. They are trying to get votes. At the election for school president, a candidate might promise free ice cream for everyone or a shorter school day. But will that really happen? Not likely. There are lots of people who need to be a part of any decision that is made for a whole school…or a whole country.
- Presidents are just people. Explaining some of the candidates’ bad behavior is tricky. We have an expectation that presidents behave a certain way, make no mistakes, do the right things. You can explain to your kids that everyone does things that are okay and not okay. Just because Trump behaved badly (said misogynistic things, etc..) doesn’t mean it is okay. You always have a chance to do better.
- All people make mistakes. Children need to see in real life that even adults say and do the wrong things, things with which we don’t agree. And everyone has a chance to change and do better. Even Trump was behaving somewhat presidentially this morning. Let’s watch him do his best to try to behave better. After all, he now is the president for all the people in this country.
- Your values are still your values. Just because Trump won doesn’t mean you have changed your beliefs, values, ethics, behaviors. Your values may not align with his values. You still believe what you believe; your values are your values. There is room for all of us in this country.
- What makes America great? One of the things that makes America great is that we are allowed to disagree. This country is a giant stew of all kinds of ingredients, each of us believing what we want. No one can tell us what we must believe. But we all live here, we are all Americans. As Obama so eloquently said, this is intramural sport; we are on the same team.
- We need to model respect for the presidency. Love him or not, he is our president elect. That office deserves respect. Our system of democracy is ours. He was legally elected.
- The sun will come out tomorrow. Even though this feels like an apocalypse to some, we will survive, and your children need to know that. Your children do not have enough life experience to look at the big picture, but you do. This is the time to model resilience, to show your children how you will react to this big change.
- All people have a voice. You and they can write letter to their congressmen, even to the president. We can work for the causes in which we believe. We will still treat people with kindness and consideration. And, truth be told, your children will not likely feel any change for a long while. They will still play soccer on Saturday.