My 6-year-old daughter came home from school the day after the election and told me that a girl in her class was moving away from America because Donald Trump was elected.
My daughter was quite distressed about this and didn’t understand when I told her I knew this family and that this was just a joke. Apparently, her friend didn’t get it either because she was ready to pack her bags and hit the road.
This election has been caustic, and little ears have probably heard lots of feelings, words and jokes they don’t quite understand. They have also probably felt the tension, anger, sadness, hope, disappointment, excitement and all the other emotions that have gone up and down throughout this election cycle.
So, how can we talk to our kids about the election in way they can understand?
1. Focus on family values. In the days after the election, I reminded my children that the outcome of the election will have an impact on America, but it doesn’t change our family. We will continue to have the same moral code. We will show kindness. We will stand up for what we believe. We will stand up for other’s rights to their beliefs.
2. Tell them how it works. Show your children electoral maps and election results so they know what we are talking about. Discuss what the president actually does, and how the system of checks and balances works. Tell them about the candidates but stick to facts rather than rumor.
3. Highlight the positive. My girls and I talked before election night about how historic it would be if a woman won the presidency. We talked about how far women have come, and how awesome it is that the world is realizing women can do anything we set our minds to accomplish. So, when Secretary Hillary Clinton didn’t win, I chose to focus on the positive sides of the progress she made for women. In fact, Clinton said it best: “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
4. Make it clear all feelings are valid. In the weeks and months after this election, there are going to be lots of feelings. People are scared. People are hurt. Other people don’t quite understand these feelings. That’s OK. In our family, we have a mantra we say often: “Every emotion is OK.” We don’t get to act on every emotion, but we are entitled to have and explore our feelings. Just because you don’t understand someone’s emotion, doesn’t make it invalid.
Remind your children that we need more listeners and less talkers. We need more people who are truly trying to understand the opposing view, not just waiting for their turn at rebuttal. Let people feel what they feel. Emotions can’t be fixed with logic, news articles or social media links. Just be there with an embrace and a listening ear, rather than your side of the story.
5. Bullying is never OK. I’ve seen a lot of bullying in this election from both sides. Even now after the results, there are reports of minorities being harassed and of Trump supporters being called bigots simply because of their votes. Both types of bullying are wrong. I reminded my daughters that everyone is entitled to feel safe and respected, even if we disagree with their opinions.
6. Love. Perhaps the most important thing we can do in the wake of a bitter election with lots of bitter feelings on both sides is simply show more love. Don’t just post about it. Do something about it. Find a service project or invite your neighbors over to get to know them better. Visit a friend, wave when someone lets you cut in on the highway, pay for the person’s meal behind you in the drive-thru. On a smaller scale, speak kind words. Be more patient. Forgive. Be a good human.
Instead of joking to your children that you’re moving to Canada, tell them that you’re going to make a difference right here because this is where your love is needed the most.
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