As parents, teachers, and advocates for kids, we are empowered to take positive action. We can be the antidote to a divisive and ugly media environment by raising a generation of kids who value character, by being a positive role model, and by standing up for others when we see an injustice.
So, how do we support kids through this stunning election and the transition that follows?
First: Tell them they will be OK. Talk to your kids and students and offer them reassurance. Let them know that our country has gone through many divisive and challenging moments. We have a strong democratic system that is designed to withstand changes in power and protect the rights of all people.
Second: Show them how to channel emotion into action. This has been a dramatic and polarizing election process, and children likely have heard all manner of rumors about what the results mean for them and their friends. That kind of energy can be scary. Help children and students find a cause that matters to them, to get out and get to know their communities, and to direct that energy into positive action. Get involved and help shape your own future.
We may have differences of opinion. But it's imperative that we teach kids how to have differences of opinion, how to disagree but still work together, and how to stand together as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Kids of all ages will be going through a range of emotions, and it's important to acknowledge how kids are feeling. They likely will have heard many opinions from the media, at home, or in school. Consider your own reactions since kids will take your lead. It's OK to show kids that you're sad or excited, but try to stay calm and rational.
For kids age 3–6:
Assure kids that they are safe. However your family or school community feels about the election results, kids are sure to notice the stress of parents and teachers around them. Smile, hug, and spend time with them.
Keep the news off and out of sight. Kids younger than about 7 can't understand the larger implications of national news. The rhetoric and some of the images can be more upsetting than informative.
Acknowledge their feelings. They might be anxious or fearful. They could be excited or relieved. However they feel—even if it's different from how you're feeling—it's important that they feel comfortable expressing it. Offer appropriate outlets for expression, from exercise to art.
Help them with conflict. Kids may have friends or family members who are reacting differently to the election. Help them figure out how to express disagreement respectfully and while avoiding name-calling, disrespectful language and prejudice.
Teach media literacy. Find age-appropriate news sources. Discuss how mainstream media has covered the election and the aftermath. You might explain how news organizations fight for viewers and the business reasons behind it. Help kids distinguish fact from fiction.
Focus on the positive. If kids aren't happy with the presidential election result, turn their attention to some of the state and local results they might feel better about.
Use age-appropriate language. Try, "Wow, that was a crazy election! I'm feeling [disappointed/excited/shocked/surprised]. I'm so happy that we have a [family/classroom/school/community] that is supportive and that treats people fairly and kindly. Let's think of what we can do to keep it that way!"
Check in. Many teens will have absorbed the news independently from you, so talking to them can offer great insights into their developing politics and their senses of justice and morality. Take the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix (just don't dismiss theirs, since that will shut down the conversation immediately).
Let teens express themselves. Many teens will feel passionately about the election and may feel the result very personally. They'll also probably be aware that their own lives could be affected by what comes next. Try to address their concerns and ideas without minimizing them.
Encourage breaks from media. It's hard for social media users to step away in the midst of major news events -- especially when there's a lot of emotion being expressed. But it's an important part of taking care of ourselves to step back, connect with each other face-to-face, and even relieve some of the pressure with nonpolitical media -- funny movies, books, games, and so on. (And don't forget to do this yourself!)
Teach kids to be upstanders. Help them understand the responsibility to speak up when they see something that isn't right. The tone of the election was incredibly negative, and between the candidates and their supporters, we saw bullying, name-calling, and lots of ugly language. Encourage them to rise above the negativity and be positive, kind, and respectful.
Use age-appropriate language. Try, "OK, now that the election's over, what can we do to make the world a better place? Let's make a plan for our [family/classroom/community] to take action."