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Expert's Advice On How to Help Kids Cope Post-Election

Photograph by Twenty20

I cried myself to sleep last week. I cried not because my candidate lost, but because seeing the returns come in felt like watching a tidal wave of hate wash over this country, one state at a time. I cried because I had so much hope that America would stand with the candidate who didn’t say hateful things over and over again.

But those hopes slipped away at an alarming rate.

I also cried for the two hopeful faces that I knew would enter my room at 6 a.m., with smiles and excitement and a bright future before them. I cried because I knew I would have to break their little hearts, explain things that are difficult to understand and find a way to build their dreams back up. Though I didn’t share with them the details of the terrible things during this election, other children did. I helped them find the facts and process what they heard. I encouraged them to hold onto hope and speak up when necessary.

Today, I dashed those hopes and let them cry and helped them through their overwhelming confusion.

And then I made sense of it for them.

How could I possibly do such a thing? What words could calm their souls and empower them to move forward with their heads held high? As it turns out, a few key concepts helped them find their way back into the world this morning. I can’t fix this for them and I can’t make any promises for the future, but I can encourage them to take Hillary Clinton’s words to heart: “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

While my Facebook feed ignited with fears that “hate won,” I decided to fight back. Hate only wins if we let it. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I, for one, am not willing to lose the fight to hate. I will fight for kindness and respect every single day for the rest of my life, if that’s what it takes, and I will bring with me a generation of people who can change the narrative of this country: Our children.

There are no magic words to erase the hurt that some children are likely feeling today. But you can start with this and keep talking. For as long as it takes, keep talking.

We have different opinions, goals and dreams. What we need to do is embrace those differences and learn from one another. That’s what democracy is all about.

1. Be the helpers

In times of trouble, we always encourage children to look for the helpers. Today I flipped the script on that line for my children. I encouraged my children to be the helpers.

They are not powerless children who lack voices, feelings and opinions. They are bright young children who know right from wrong and want to make our country a better place. They can do that one moment at a time by acting as change makers and helping when and where it is needed.

2. We are a democracy

We are Americans, and we believe in democracy. We don’t give total, unyielding power to one individual. We might not always see the election results we hope for, but that doesn’t render us powerless.

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Explain the concept of democracy to your children. Draw pictures. Act it out. Fire up the "School House Rocks." Teach them how to use their voices and encourage them to do just that. It’s important to help young children understand that the reason America is already great is that we are all different. We have different opinions, goals and dreams. What we need to do is embrace those differences and learn from one another. That’s what democracy is all about.

3. Spread kindness

Hate doesn’t trump hate. Anger doesn’t trump hate. Only kindness can take down hate. Kids feel powerless, because they’re little. They can’t vote, yet they hear bits and pieces about our country and what might or might not happen. What they can do is create ripples of kindness by connecting with one person at a time. What they can do is stand up to negativity and stand together as the next generation.

4. It’s OK to feel disappointed

We need to tell our children that all feelings about this election are OK. It’s OK to feel hurt, sad and disappointed. It’s OK to feel angry and frustrated. This isn’t what we stand for, and yet it happened. That’s hard to recover from. But we can recover. We can listen to other people’s opinions and respond without anger. We can learn about the issues that people stand for and find our common ground.

Today we can feel disappointed, but tomorrow we stand united and move toward the future together.

Teach your children to put down their phones and connect face-to-face as much as possible.

5. Use your voice

It’s imperative that we teach children how to assert their voices. It’s not enough to tell them to be assertive. We have to show them how. Write scripts. Practice role-plays. Put on a play with social stories. Give them the opportunity to practice speaking up, over and over again, so that they know what to say when the time comes.

6. Spread truth

Kids hear things and repeat things, and sometimes those things get jumbled and lost in translation. Help your child find the truth in what he brings home from school. If you don’t have the answer, search it out. Children need facts, and they need to feel comforted. You can do both of those things by remaining calm and speaking the truth in age-appropriate terms.

7. Connect face-to-face

While I love technology for many reasons, I do believe we’ve lost our way just a little bit. We share bite-sized opinions and articles that might or might not be grounded in truth. We connect on a superficial level through screens that fit in our pockets. We use every shortcut available to avoid slowing down and taking back humanity.

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Teach your children to put down their phones and connect face-to-face as much as possible. Kindness is best spread through human contact—the kind that happens when you slow down for long enough to get to know, and truly understand, the people around you.

We can unite this country once again, and we can instill hope in our children. Connect. Empower. Create ripples of kindness. Every. Single. Day.

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