Creating Safe Spaces for Children to Process the Election (and the Results!)
Just like many adults, when it comes to the 2020 election, children are feeling anxious, scared, and confused. Sifting through media messages can be a challenge for anyone, and it's important to help children understand what they are seeing and and hearing from the news, and from those around them.
During these tumultuous times, it is important for us to hold challenging, even difficult conversations with our youth. Just like many adults, children are feeling anxious, scared, and confused—and they’re trying to sift through the many messages they’re hearing from the media and those around them.
Kids are more perceptive than we will ever give them credit for. They feed off of our energy, read our body language, are keenly attuned to our vocal tones, and are truly adept at listening through walls and to whispers between adults. Therefore, as adults, we need to be there to calm their fears and to make sure they are well informed.
Believe it or not, kids already know how we are feeling—like I said, they are perceptive. When we tell our kids how we feel (in an age appropriate manner) it takes the anxiety of the unknown away. When adults normalize anxiety, are open and honest with their feelings, and normalize having difficult conversations—they make strong kids who become strong adults. If we teach children early on, these highly valued skills and modes of being can become second nature.
Before you have a conversation about the election with your child—do your homework and be prepared.
Assess your core values. If we take away the individual candidates - what are you voting for?
- How do your core values align with each candidate?
- Do they at all?
- Do they align with the political party you typically vote for—or are you finding yourself compelled by a different party this year?
Fact check your voting beliefs. Make sure to do your research on how each candidate will support your core values.
- A great unbiased, non-partisan way to check the facts about your candidates is https://justfacts.votesmart.org/
Key things to consider while discussing the election:
Lay the ground rules. Reassure your child that you’re in this together. And that:
- They are unconditionally loved
- You will do everything in your power to keep them safe
- Their opinions matter
Remind your child or your student that:
- There will be no name calling - we are teaching America’s future how to be respectful, it is essential that we remain respectful ourselves.
- If we have a difference of opinion we say so kindly (we do not comment on things that cannot be changed within five minutes - age, hair, etc.).
- We stick to facts when making statements—even if that means we are using factcheck.org for every other sentence
Remain curious. This conversation is a great way to get to know how your child is feeling in 2020.
- Explore how your child feels about each candidate and why.
- Lean into the uncomfortable conversation and really get to your child’s core values.
Be informed. It is our responsibility to teach the importance of seeking the truth.
- You did your homework so now help your child do theirs.
- Make sure that they know how to make informed opinions, and which sites are truly credible.
Pro Tip: This is a great opportunity to build awareness of credible sources across the board, not just in regard to the election.
Stay positive. Remember when your child was a toddler? He would fall and scrape his knee and then look up to the nearest adult to see how he should react. If his adult ran over with a worried look, the toddler would scream. If his adult ran over with a big smile, he knew he was going to be ok.
- This is a similar situation - your child hears awful news about each candidate (both left and right) and looks to you to make sure that everything is going to be ok.
Pro Tip: If you yourself are worried whether everything will be ok, remind your child that no matter what happens, you’ll do whatever you can to keep them safe.
Be honest. If you are a guardian - try your best to tell your child how you feel about the candidates in a positive way.
- I know this seems impossible but it is essential for us to teach our kids to speak in a respectful way even when we disagree.
- Set an example on how to be diplomatic, and how to acknowledge when others are falling short—and even how the same message or sentiment could be shared differently.
If you have specific questions, need someone to practice with, or if you want someone to speak with your child—please schedule an individualized, 1:1 session.
Finally, you may feel comfortable talking to your child about this election but have someone else in your life that you are having a difficult time with—family, spouse, friend, coworker, boss. In times like these, many find themselves drawing lines on who can be their friends, and who can be their children’s friends. If you need a neutral party to talk to in order to navigate these incredibly challenging thoughts and conversations, I am available to brainstorm, to counsel, and to mediate. Please do not hesitate to reach out and set up an appointment.
If you are a teacher and you are wondering how to talk to your students about the election or about the results, Teaching Tolerance has wonderful resources. I am happy to help go over lesson plans with you or to brainstorm ideas for conversations with your students.