Yesterday was a strange day. This is the fifth election in which I was old enough to vote, and I cannot remember one with this level of intensity. Maybe I’ve forgotten. There were definitely intense feelings surrounding W. Bush and Obama, but nothing that felt like it carried the same level of emotion.
When I opened Facebook yesterday morning, what I saw almost took my breath away. The reactions were everywhere. They were intense. They were coming from people I typically don’t see getting involved in political or controversial issues. I was up early because it was my morning to drive my son to school, and instantly I felt pressure to say something. I knew that he knew about the election, but I didn’t know what he thought or what his friends thought.
When I brought it up, I learned a few things: He was eager to know who won. He had feelings about the outcome. And his friends had been talking—with both strong feelings and detailed information—about this election. In fact, there were names and details that surprised me. I didn’t realize he knew that. I didn’t know he had paid such close attention.
There will continue to be a lot of political conversation around the next few months—and there probably should be. But this was a reminder to me that our kids are listening more than we realize. And really, the most important changes for our future as a nation are found in the little people growing up around us as all of this unfolds.
So, here are just a few thoughts about how we can talk to our kids about the election this week and over the next few months.
1. Ask what their friends are saying
Some kids will tell you automatically everything their friends are saying. Others will hold it in, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about it. Go first. Initiate the conversation with them.
2. Take them seriously
Remember what’s real to them is real to them. Kids, especially under the age of ten, have a harder time with abstract concepts and ambiguity. It’s hard for them to understand some of the nuances that protect our national security or democratic processes. At least, it’s hard to understand if they are fundamentally worried that something is wrong. So, most importantly, reassure your kids that they are safe.
3. Talk about your own values
Regardless of how you vote, this election probably made you think about some of your own values. Use this opportunity to talk about those with your kid.
4. Make it personal
Talk about good people who voted differently than you. My good friend, Carlos, reminded me of this yesterday, and I can’t stop thinking about how brilliant it really is. Make this personal. Whenever we group people together into a label it’s easy to hate them, fear them, belittle them, or ignore them. But when you remind your kids of people who you know and like who think differently than you, it changes the conversation. Pointing out the good things we see in each other may be the best way to show respect and help our kids feel safe.
In my own house, this election season has been a reminder to love.
Whenever you see fear, let it motivate you to love.
Whenever you see anger, let it motivate you to love.
Whenever you see pain, let it motivate you to love.
These are really hard conversations. I’m going to keep trying in my own house, even if it means sometimes messing them up. And I hope you will, too.