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To Talk to Your Child About the Election, Tell Them They Are Safe Even After Donald Trump Won

About 70 percent of Jews voted for Clinton yesterday, and the election results came as a shock to many.

But if you are a parent it’s not only your own feelings you need to process, there is also the daunting question about how to explain all this to your children.

CNN commentator Van Jones got emotional Tuesday night as he pondered the same question.

“It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us,” he said. “You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bully.’ You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bigot.’ You tell your kids, ‘Do your homework and be prepared.’”

“Then you have this outcome, and you have people putting children to bed tonight and they’re afraid of breakfast. They’re afraid of, ‘How do I explain this to my children?’”

So we spoke to a number of child psychiatrists and teachers to help you find ways to best explain and reassure your children during this tumultuous days.

Start by seeing how your child is reacting

“At first, get a read on how your kids are reacting,” said Dr. David Palmiter, a child psychiatrist at Marywood University in Pennsylvania.

Where is your child coming from? What is their pain, what emotions are they feeling? Are they confused?

Ask them what they have heard and what questions they have. And then answer it in a way that is appropriate to their age level.

Emphasize with them. Give them truthful reassurances. And don’t underestimate how much this will help already.

“It’s important to understand how many ways parents have to ease children’s pain,” Palmiter told the Forward.

Shield them from your own despair

“One thing that is very tempting in this situation is for parents themselves to feel grief and panic and to talk about the situation in front of the children, but not at the children’s level,” said Dr. Wendy Mogel, the author of the bestselling book “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.”

“Parents have to stop themselves from talk that is cynical, indignant, morally superior and panicky in front of the children,” she told the Forward.

And try to avoid having your children watch television news for the next couple of days, until emotions calm down again.

Children hear everything, so don’t confuse them with your own fear or confusion. Instead talk to them on their level and see what they want to know.

Ease any immediate fears

“It’s important to stress to children that we will keep them safe,” Dr. Elaine Ducharme told the Forward. She is a clinical psychologist who focuses on children and adolescents in her private practice in South Glastonbury, Connecticut.

“Tell them that this country is still a good country to live in, and that there are other countries that are much worse,” she said.

“We have to tell our children, that this election was a terrible show of behavior,” but hopefully it will be over now, Dr. Ducharme added.

Explain that nothing is going to change right away. Trump won’t be sworn in as president until January.

Explain that even powerful people have flaws – but that this isn’t an excuse to be a bully

Over the course of the last months, your children might have seen Trump or his supporters say a lot of racist, sexist or even anti-Semitic comments.

“This might be a good time to explain to children, that we are complicated as humans,” said Dr. Palmiter. “Sometimes even the best of us have shadow sides.”

Discussing Trump, you might say something like: “This is who won the election. And he is a smart man, but he doesn’t always behave very well.”

At the same time, it’s important to be very firm and make clear that some of Trump’s behaviors are completely unacceptable.

Explain that it’s ok to disagree with someone, but it’s not ok to call them names.

It might be understandably hard for your children to understand why they should respect the president-elect, but don’t follow his example. Try making a connection to your own life, to make it easier for them to understand.

“Say something like, ‘You know what? Even mommy and daddy have done things that we are not proud of, but we don’t want you to do them either,’” said Dr. Ducharme.

Be a role model and show understanding

During the election, your children might have heard you say a lot of negative things about Trump.

Now you have to be a role model and step up. If you want your children to understand that Trump’s bullying and name-calling is not okay, you can’t do it either.

Dr. Palmiter encourages parents to try to “find the high road” not only in speaking about Trump, but also in speaking about the people who voted for him.

“There is a lot of blaming of people who voted for him right now,” he said. “While I resonate with that, let’s try to understand these people who are every bit as important human beings as we are. And then communicate this understanding to our children.”

“It’s an amazing moment to teach the rules of civil discourse and engagement and the basic principle of vote,” said Dr. Mogel.

Start discussions and show your children how to talk through different opinions. “Show that we can solve problems with respect,” said Dr. Ducharme.

Teach your child to be resilient

In her practice, Dr. Ducharme tells children, “if you are upset, you need some control.”

Work on such strategies that can help your child regain control during this time. Have them meet their friends. Make sure they don’t isolate themselves. Do things with your children that they enjoy. Involve them in their hobbies.

Tell them that a crisis is also a chance of opportunity

“We are here to teach them that, historically, moments of change can be moments of growth and opportunity, as well as moments of uncertainty,” Ariela Dubler, the head of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan, wrote in a letter to parents this morning.

All the experts we spoke to agreed that it’s important to emphasize that a crisis is a time for opportunity. And there is always hope.

The pain and confusion we are feeling now can be a chance to take some positive actions – for yourself and your children.

Join age appropriate political causes or groups that promote diversity. Show your children how they can get involved in their schools.

Basically, “show them that we [and they] have a voice,” said Dr. Ducharme.

Mogel believes that this can be a conversation for children as young as three years old.

And once they are six years or older, “you can have some of the deepest conversations of social justice and Jewish values,” she said. “What do we do to protect our people, protect ourselves and not be discouraged.”

Take care of yourself

You can only help your children through this time if you are helping yourself. “Give at least the same amount of time and care to yourself,” suggested Dr. Permiter.

Talk to friends. Go to synagogue. Be together.

Respect the office of the president

Last but not least, explain to your children that despite everything else we want to respect the office of the president.

“We certainly want to communicate that as our president-elect, we all need to give him a chance to succeed,” said Dr. Palmiter.

And you can explain that the government has checks and balances. We have had many different presidents over the year, and the country is still strong.

At Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan, teachers are using the election to discuss civic procedure with their students.

“Our election procedures worked as they always have because our country is strong and our Constitution continues to guide us,” Ariela Dubler, wrote in her letter to parents.

“We are here to remind them that we believe in democracy, the Constitution, the power of civil discourse, and the processes that make this country strong.”

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @lillymmaier

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