Fast forward to earlier this week and that line went right out the window. It's now President-elect Donald Trump. The phone calls and comments were rapid. Parents and kids were processing the unimaginable for them.
“How do I tell my kids that he got elected?”
“I've always been taught to be nice and not be a bully, but he was, and now he is president.”
“Kids at school are saying I have to leave.”
That's what is in the pit of your stomach, the idea that everything you have been trying to teach your child has been destroyed in a day. The idea that love and kindness can overcome anything. It feels like these truths, that you hold to be self-evident, no longer apply. It's a scary time for many.
So let's take a moment and get familiar with some simple ways to protect and strengthen your children (and you) during the transition to a new president.
Take care of you.
It's difficult to be a good and effective parent if you are in an unhealthy state of mind. Recognize that your child may be reacting to what's happening in the world, but they are also reacting to how you are handling your anxiety and feelings. Do your best to speak with your child in a calm, warm, and collected voice. Engage in self-care activities if you find yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed. What helps you manage your stress? Deep breaths, exercise, a good book, family, friends, writing, praying, music?
Take care of them.
Everyone wants to feel safe, especially children. Reassure your child that everything will be okay (even if you believe it won't be okay). Let them know that they can express their feelings and you are there to listen. Help them name all the great people in their lives, all the people (and God?) that love them and will keep them safe. Let them know that even though he won the election, more people voted against him and that means there are so many people out there that feel how you feel. You are not alone.
Let the feelings flow, yours and theirs.
Feelings are real. You don't have to pretend to be a robot. Empathize with your child and even share that you have some or all of the same feelings of fear, uncertainty, anger, sadness, etc. Find the balance. With all of the negative feelings, let the positive feelings flow as well. Reassurance, love, togetherness, strength. The goal of processing any experience is not to avoid your feelings, but to feel them fully in a balanced and healthy manner.
Model a healthy attitude and coping strategies for your child. Show them how you are dealing with your emotions in a healthy manner, and they are more likely to follow.
Perceived failure is a teaching opportunity.
You feel like you failed. You worked hard to teach your child prosocial behaviors, and how Trump's behavior in the last many months was mean and hateful. Then he wins. Take a step back and recognize this is a moment and not forever. This perceived failure is a chance to have an important teachable moment. Build resilience in your child by emphasizing the importance to keep doing good, to treat others with respect and kindness, even when it seems things are not going your way. To do or say what's right, even in the face of what's wrong. Parents have to think long-term in that you are providing a lesson for your child for the present and the future.
Empathize with Trump supporters.
You read that correctly. In your mind it's unfathomable that someone would vote for him. It just makes no sense to you. Step out of your shoes and try to understand why tens of millions did. Do you really think it was because they are all racists? Maybe. But you have to recognize there are other reasons. Remember, you are explaining this to your child. Keep it simple and talk about how some people didn't agree with what Hillary Clinton believed or some people voted from Donald Trump for other reasons even though he said hurtful and mean things. Remember, empathy doesn't mean agreement, it's purpose is to increase understanding and awareness.
This is the perfect time to build character and self-esteem in your child. This is the time for you and your child to be the authentic you. To have your child celebrate their uniqueness and their strengths. To say it's okay to be scared, unsure, and anxious, yet continue to enjoy the things that you do, go where you always go, and if something happens (which it probably won't), you will handle it because you are strong and can get through anything together. Build character and your child will grow in confidence and strength.
Stay aware and safe.
The reality is you can only control what you say or do. If you are concerned about your safety or others, be aware of your surroundings. Travel in groups, especially in the evening. Ask a trusted classmate to walk with you to a safe destination. Individuals, especially males, need to rise to the occasion and be available to escort anyone who feels unsafe. Know that social media has given anyone a platform to be hateful and most limit their actions to a comments section. With that said, take precautions.
There are apps, like Companion, Family Locator, and bSafe, that can allow for trusted people you select to know the location of you or your child during a walk. If you have to walk alone, stay on the phone until you reach your destination. Speak with schools, universities, and the local community about safe escorts as this service is beginning to be offered widely.
Co-create a plan.
Help your child process feelings, but then make a plan. Co-create a plan for your child that includes how to manage feelings but also how to better oneself and society. Actively engaging in a plan can extinguish feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, replacing them with feelings of agency and a sense of control, direction, and empowerment. Praise your child for attempting to turn a negative into a positive and how life has ups and downs, but they are doing a great job navigating this challenge. A plan is a blueprint and recognize that it may work great, but sometimes the plan may have to be revisited and adjusted.
Take your power back.
Why are you giving your power to this election? The idea that everything is over and nothing can be done. In the last election, did you give your power to President Obama and stop working, stop growing, stop striving for success? I hope not. Again, feel your feelings, but don't give away your power. Listening is power. Finding support in one another is power. Organizing is power. America is still America. It's progressing, and with progress are setbacks. Debate the size of this setback if that's a part of your process of moving forward. Take the steps above and recognize that you control your daily experience, and that can mean the world to your child.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!