There’s no doubt about it; these elections have affected our children. Never in recent history have children, young children, been so aware of the nation’s presidential candidates and what they stood for. Never have so many grade-schoolers (as well as middle-schoolers and high-schoolers) felt the importance of an election as they have between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And, never have the results affected them so intensely.
No matter who you voted for as a parent, who your family was rooting for to win, if you were a Trump or a Clinton supporter, Democrat or Republican, if you have children you know that they were probably affected one way or another when they awoke on November 9th. And, as parents, we know (sometimes need to be reminded) that the well-being of our children (physical, mental and emotional) is of utmost priority for us.
So, it’s important, crucial, and integral that now, today, we help them wade through the confusion of the claims, the threats, the promises, the TV and internet comments, as well as the protests so they come out on the other side of all of this feeling safe, loved and compassion for others.
I see our children in one of three camps after Election Day.
Camp 1: Scared of What’s to Come
I teach elementary school. Our school services many students of Mexican descent. The day after the election I heard these eight- and nine-year olds talking about “being sent back.” So, we started the day with a class discussion. What these young people told me was that they were sad, angry and, above all, fearful. Almost all were afraid that they and/or their families would be sent away from the only place they have ever known as home.
My youngest daughter, Grace (age 13), and I spoke about this later that evening, and I compared it to her being told that we would be sent to live in New York City, where much of my family is from. Like many of my students who have family in Mexico and who have visited the country, we too have returned to The Big Apple for summer vacations. And, although Grace is older than my students and understands that New York is part of the country in which we live, she understood my students’ fear immediately: to be uprooted, to start fresh, to know the culture, but not to have been raised in it, to leave everything you know behind.
I heard on the news today, that some of these older children are unleashing their fears through violence, beating on their peers who are Trump supporters.
What Do We Do As Parents?
If your child is fearful for themselves, their family or others because of the election results, it’s critical that you don’t add to their anxiety, regardless of your own worries. Our little ones don’t need to concern themselves about theoretical futures that are still uncertain. I’m not asking you to lie, but I am telling you that your child needs love and support and reassurance. If they ask what’s going to happen come January, tell them that no one is completely sure yet, but we’re hoping everyone will work together to make the best choices for all the people in our country. Share your concerns and worry-talk with other adults. Your talk with your children should remain comforting and loving. Play a game with them. Read them a bedtime story. But, try to avoid adding to their fear.
Camp 2: “In Your Face” Victors
There have already been reports of young people chanting “White Power” in schools while holding Trump posters and yet others of young people yelling, “Build that wall” in cafeterias filled with children of immigrants.
No matter your political beliefs, no one likes a pompous winner. It’s okay for children to celebrate that their candidate won the election, but never at the expense of another’s feelings, and especially not a child’s.
What Do We Do As Parents?
If your family and/or child is pleased with the election results, teach him that there’s no shame in celebrating. It was a hard fought battle and the underdog prevailed. That’s the story of America, coming through when all odds are against us. So, your children have the right to be proud and not have to hide it. But, please teach them the difference between celebrating and gloating. Remind them not to instill or build upon fears that some may be feeling. If the tables were turned, you would expect the same respect for your own children. Victories can be wonderful. Bragging, not so much. Words that are meant to hurt…divisive; and now, more than ever, we need to teach our children unity, not divisiveness.
Camp 3: Middle of the Road
And then there are the kids who wanted Clinton in the White House, but are not fearful for their families’ futures, as well as the children who are pleased with the Trump victory, but have not separated themselves from their Clinton-supporting peers. These are the kids in the middle, the kids whose hearts are breaking for their friends who are unsure about their futures, and who stand by jaw-dropped, as their buddies chant words that cut deep and scare their friends.
What Do We Do As Parents?
It’s very possible that this is the most important post-election group, for they are the ones that can be the catalyst for healing. First, we need to be thankful, thankful that these children still feel like they are standing on solid ground, thankful that they know better than to make others feel powerless when they are most frightened. These children are the ones that can bring the first two camps back together. Show them how to support their peers who are scared and hurting. Teach them that winning is enough and that we never rub salt in the wounds of others. Help these children be the arms that reach both sides and bring them back together, bring these divided groups back to one group of children who may have different beliefs and cultures, but who don’t allow an election to force them apart, pitting them against one another. These children are the ones with the ability to rebuild broken bonds and replace anger and fear with care, love and hope.
And, when our kids can do this, maybe we can soon do the same.