November 15th, 2016

Trump Election shock

Many people were shocked and some were dismayed by Donald Trump’s election as president of the USA last week. But unless you live in America you may not have expected it to have had much impact on your children. I was somewhat taken aback when one of the 13 year old participants on the behavioural change programme I facilitate in Sydney anxiously asked me if I thought we’d go to war now Trump was going to be president. I also heard an account on the radio of principals calling special assemblies in primary schools to assuage children’s fears.

Some parents will have real fears themselves around the election of a man whose campaign was characterised by vitriolic hate-filled statements directed against women, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, his opponent, the media and anyone who disagrees with him. The few policies he identified were inward-looking, protectionist and xenophobic. His utterances seemed impulsive, self-focused and lacking compassion for any other. So it’s not surprising that many worry that this man will be in a position of immense power from January 2017. I personally am very concerned at the display of such bullying tactics and the normalising of a hate and blame-filled discourse, not to mention his vulgar sexualised messages about women, judging them primarily on appearance.

If adults have these concerns then their children will pick up on the vibe of anxiety and may hear things that they don’t fully understand. They will draw their own conclusions if we do not explain to them what is going on and what we think will happen in a calm way, in words they can understand according to their age.

Some children will have been just getting on with their lives and may not have been really aware of the adult interest in politics but may now be hearing things at school.

Even if you think Trump may be the breath of fresh air that the US needs and embrace his policies there will probably have been aspects of his behaviour that you find distasteful. If your children have become aware of this it could be a great opportunity to communicate your values to them.

The family is the source of your child’s values. They see how you treat others, how you disagree with others and how you resolve disputes, how you listen to other opinions. Your rules will count for a lot as they are a statement about your values, a guide to what is expected and acceptable behaviour. But it’s what they see modelled that counts for most. They will see whether in this family we give everyone a say, whether everyone is treated respectfully. They will observe whether people who are different from them are regarded with fear and disrespect or interest, an attempt to understand and enjoy. If we treat our partners or our children with ridicule, treating them to put downs or sarcasm, or bullying tactics then our children will learn that that is how to behave. Whenever we discipline our children they take away from that interaction “this is how you deal with things that you don’t like.”

When someone in the public eye behaves in a way or makes statements that are contrary to our values we need to let our children know that we disagree with that stance or conduct without putting down that public figure.

About this time last year sadly we wrote about addressing children’s worries in the aftermath of the Paris and Beirut tragedies. Click here for our blog.  Here are some other ideas about addressing your child’s worries and teaching values:

  • Listen first. Your children may be anxious about what they hear or see on TV and online.  They may have questions.   Answer questions simply and honestly.
  • Ask them what they’ve heard and what they think about it. "What do you think of that?" "Do you agree or disagree with what was said?" "How did you feel when that happened?" "What do you think should be done?" "Is there anything you would like to do?" Your questions show that you respect their thoughts and feelings.
  • Give your point of view. If your children are young you don’t have to include all your adult perspectives but do be honest with them. When you don't tell the truth, they imagine much worse.
  • Young children are egocentric and are focused on how situations affect them. If they show signs of worry or upset, reassure them you will keep them safe. It is not your job to take away worries, fears, and anxiety. That is impossible. Your job is to be there and offer comfort, and to help your child process their worries.
  • Young children have a hard time understanding that someone can have both positive and negative qualities. Explain that you might not approve of certain words and behaviours of Mr. Trump, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have other good qualities.
  • With older children this is an opportunity to explain how the democratic processes work. Sufficient people believed in Trump’s ideas to elect him and we need to respect the choice of the people just as in Britain many who didn’t want to leave the European Union had to accept Brexit. Ask their opinions, including why so many people wanted Trump to be president. Don’t denigrate those electors and their choice. How about saying something like:
  • “This is a really surprising outcome.  I never expected it either.”
  • “It’s ok to be sad or scared.  What’s important, though, is that we always stay true to what is important to us.”
  • “I’m shocked too.  We have to trust that this is a man who really feels that he can do a lot of good for his country and will respect old alliances. We have to believe that he doesn’t want to stir up trouble in our region.”
  • “He hasn’t been a kind man during his campaign.  Let’s hope he now understands that to do this job he has to be respectful and collaborative.”
  • “It’s always important to talk about the things that scare us and to know that there are many people that care the same way you do.”

 

Posted in: Anxiety , Family Values

 

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