“Let us go forward together, strong and determined in our love of children. Remember it is all about all the children.”
— Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP, President, American Academy of Pediatrics (November 10, 2016 – AAPNews).
In the aftermath of last week’s election, the AAP responded to reports that children around the country were having a hard time coping with the results and that their parents were uncertain about how to talk with them. It seems the ugliness of the campaign (we examined that here in August) has spilled beyond the victory and concession speeches and post-mortem analyses and continues to occupy large areas of space between our ears. Over the weekend, videos of schoolchildren being bullied by students who supported the winner competed with videos of people, mostly young adults, protesting the outcome in the streets of America’s largest cities. The AAP apparently felt the need to help parents “serve as a source of reassuring comfort and safety for your children” during this volatile post-election period. The healing, says the nation’s largest organization representing pediatricians everywhere, begins with you:
Take care of yourself first. Children depend on the adults around them to be and feel safe and secure. If you are anxious or angry, children are likely to be more affected by your emotional state than by your words. Find someone you trust to help with your personal concerns.
The AAP advises parents to talk, listen, and act:
- Explain—as simply and directly as possible—the results of the election and what they mean for who is in charge of the country. Start by asking what your child has already heard and what understanding he or she has reached. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns. The amount of information that will be helpful to a child depends on his or her age. For example, older children generally want and will benefit from more detailed information than younger children. Because every child is different, take cues from your own child as to how much information to provide.
- Pay attention to what your children are viewing on television, the internet and social media, especially younger children. When children watch news on television, try to watch with them and use the opportunity to discuss what is being seen and how it makes you and your child feel.
- Consider sharing your feelings about the election with your child. This is an opportunity for you to model how to react to the news, especially if you talked openly about the potential results as a family in the weeks leading up to the election. Be sure that you are able to express a positive or hopeful approach about the future and be reassuring.
- Share with your child your own values and beliefs, including how you as a family treat others who are different or who may disagree with you. Kindness is important. Teach your child that if you disagree with someone, you can talk with them kindly about the way you feel.
- Encourage your child to ask questions, and answer them directly. Question-and-answer exchanges help to ensure ongoing support as your child begins to understand the response to current events. Don’t force the issue with your child. Instead, extend multiple invitations for discussion and then provide an increased physical and emotional presence as you wait for him or her to be ready to accept those invitations.
- If your child has seen or experienced discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, either from other children or adults, encourage your child to discuss what he or she has experienced. Observing someone we care about being discriminated against, or experiencing discrimination ourselves, is scary, and reminds us that now more than ever it is important to reassure children that they deserve to feel and be safe in their schools, homes, and communities.
- Allow your child to express what he or she is feeling, including fear, anxiety, or anger. Listen as your child talks about it, again and again if necessary. Reassure your child of the steps that are being taken to keep him or her safe. Children should be encouraged to tell a trusted adult, such as a parent or a teacher, if they are bullied or feel threatened.
- Engage in activities with your children that demonstrate your values. Volunteer together at an organization whose mission is dedicated to a cause you care about, give your child ideas about individual actions he or she can take every day to help fight prejudice, and take care to discuss issues of shared concern as a family.
A dose of reality is in order here. I think we can agree on these things today:
- One person is responsible for provoking this entire discussion today. Only one person.
- People were upset before election day and they are upset after election day for one very basic reason that our kids should understand, respect, and even emulate: People care deeply about and love this country.
- Regardless of one’s point of view, there is always common ground that almost every reasonable person can agree on. Everyone wants all children to get a good education. Everyone wants all children to have enough to eat. Everyone wants to drink clean water and breathe clean air. Everyone wants to see this country and its citizens succeed. Everyone wants peace.
- Adults need to do a much better job recognizing that children are watching, they are listening, and they are mimicking our words and actions. Modeling patience, kindness, and tolerance, and using words that wouldn’t embarrass and dishonor their mothers and grandmothers would be a good place to start.
This civic event has been an important teachable moment. Hopefully we’ve all learned something.