Yes, it’s almost over but the effects of this election race may reverberate with us for months to come! Whether you are nervous about handing over the most powerful position in the world to a man who might evict your neighbor or to a woman who can’t keep classified information secret, you know the stakes have never been higher. Unfortunately, the toll this election has taken is not just on the voting adults but also their children. We often fail to recognize that children process worries differently from adults. In my observation treating thousands of anxious children and adolescents, they often fall into the trap of assuming that if their parents are worried, something is really wrong. And worse still, since they have limits (e.g. inability to vote), they may feel helpless, guilty and occasionally even responsible!
Most of what’s listed in this article is evidence based unless specified as opinion. How trauma affects children is excellently detailed in the NICE guidelines. Following are a few simple ways to help:
1) Recognize the problem
Unlike other worries where children may come to their parents for help, with traumatic events or threats of danger, they often don’t, fearing they’ll be another burden to deal with. Translation- you may not even know how much stress your kids are under due to the elections! Your reading this article is the first step to improving things for your child so pat yourself on the back and read on!
2) Limit exposure
Exposing our children to all the horrors of the world and of this election can be damaging. Some might say, “but I am preparing my children for real life!” Wrong! You are preparing your children to be scared of life. Children should grow to be aware of their existence in a beautiful world where there is inspiration in every moment and the power of human social consciousness can be encountered overwhelmingly more often than death or destruction. Not just because one of the candidates has used “locker room language” on TV; many of the slurs, accusations and discussions on the media are likely to provoke feelings of uncertainty, helplessness and fear in our youth. Hence, it’s doubly important to try and limit Election coverage before our children especially preteens. It’s time we recognize that our children cannot be left alone in dealing with this overload of knowledge.
3) Ask them about their opinion
If they have been exposed to the Election craze (and it’ll be a rare child who hasn’t), ask them what they think about it. Ask them what their opinions are, encourage a discussion. And whenever you notice anything concerning such as hatred against a religion or fear of all men being womanizers, take that opportunity to give them a fuller picture and how things are not as polar as they seem in politics.
4) Keep Your Kids Secure From Your Worries
Believe it or not, your children (yes, painfully distant teenagers included) are in tune with your every word and emotion. When they see your stress, they get anxious as well. Your stories of catastrophic events related to or as an aftermath of these elections are not seen as the ramblings of a frustrated adult to your children. They are seen as the inevitable downfall of all humankind! It makes sense if you consider their possible thought process- “if my protectors are crumbling in fear, who is protecting me?”
5) Be part of their Cyber Lives
Your children may have built strong opinions that they never share with you but share with their peers. It is developmentally appropriate for adolescents to interact more with their peers than their parents. Thus, you are more likely to discover their inner life by following their FB/twitter feeds or snapchat accounts. Although the involvement of parents in their children’s cyber-life is increasing, it’s not common practice yet as was demonstrated by this Pew research report.
6) Welcome a Difference in Opinion
Yes, they want to vote for the candidate you think is devil incarnate. But guess what? It’s OK. Their opinion may differ but it doesn’t change their relationship with you. They are entitled to their views. As my 4-year-old retorted when I was about to read the “Cat in the Hat” for the thousandth time to her- “No, I want to read another book”. When asked why, she says “because I have my own mind!”
Yes, she does. Yes, our children do.