How Do I Explain the Election Results to My Kids?

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
Yahoo Beauty

My 8-year-old daughter was a weepy mess before school on Wednesday morning.

Just the day before, she and I had stood on line for an hour together to vote. We walked home feeling buoyed, her trilling with excitement about a poster in her school. “Mama — when Hillary wins, she will be on the wall of Presidents,” she’d said. “She will be the only woman on it!”

And now, just like that, she won’t. And now, just like that, I need to look into my daughter’s face and explain to her that we need to keep going anyway, because it’s worth it. But like so many other parents who had pinned their hopes on a Hillary Clinton win, I feel wholly unprepared for this challenge: How to grieve for our loss while also helping our children maintain positivity and not internalize sexism and bigotry?

We can maybe start by heeding the words of Clinton herself. “I’ll never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it,” she said in Wednesday’s concession speech. She told all the women who supported her that “nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion,” and added, “To all the little girls watching: Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.”

We can also look to our peers, such as the Brooklyn-based editors of Kazoo magazine — a new, empowering publication for young girls whose positive Facebook message helped me climb out of bed this morning:

For more clinical advice, we checked in with child and teen psychologists. And for starters, understand that high emotions are to be expected. “It’s very normal to feel quite devastated now,” Kim Bergman, a Los Angeles–based psychologist who specializes in LGBT families, tells Yahoo Beauty.

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” adds Connecticut-based psychologist Barbara Greenberg. “I got a call about one kid who can’t focus because her friend is an undocumented immigrant and she’s terrified she will be deported.” Another father, who is Muslim, did not know how to face his girls. But parents, Greenberg tells Yahoo Beauty, “have to tuck your anxieties in when you’re around your kids, or else they will think you’re coming undone.”

Instead, focus on a combination of hope and reality. “Number one,” she says, “you say that in life you do have to deal with disappointment — and when there are collective disappointments, hopefully they can bring us together as a country and as a community.” When talking to girls specifically, she adds, “You can point out that even though it was a difficult race for Hillary, she persevered, and that perseverance and tenacity are incredible qualities: It was hard, but she went ahead and she did it anyway.” It’s important to highlight Clinton’s gracious exit, as well, and make sure girls watch to see what she does next, “for inspiration.”

With boys, she adds, “we tell them that even people in positions of power can have moral compasses pointed in the wrong direction, and that people who are politicians often feel the normal rules don’t apply to them — they should, but they don’t always. This is a good teaching opportunity.”

Psychologist and parenting expert Stephanie O’Leary agrees, telling Yahoo Beauty, “Kids will hear a lot of things over the coming weeks, but at the end of the day your words will resonate most strongly with them. Even if you’re feeling defeated, do not underestimate how powerful you are when it comes to your child.” She adds that reinforcing the importance of civility is important. “I wish we lived in a world where everyone communicated respectfully, but that is not the reality,” O’Leary says. “Making sure that your child expects the adults around them to adhere to the same basic rules they’ve learned in preschool and kindergarten will prevent them from falling into the habit of thinking rude, hurtful commentary is acceptable.”

Greenberg notes that finally, you can soothe disappointment by remembering this: “Hope is ultimately all we have; if we lose it, we lose everything. Instead, find every opportunity for hope and for exercising power on a micro-level — talk to your kids about what they can do, individually, to feel empowered, and to create a kinder, gentler society.”

That could be especially useful for teens, who are old enough to see through platitudes meant to be soothing. “Have them start to get involved in politics,” she suggests. “Talk about their opinions and listen to what they have to say. This is very empowering, and will teach them that their opinions are valid, and will keep them attuned to their culture… Move them away from the sometimes self-centeredness of the teen mind by having them start to do volunteer work.”

For kids in minority families who may have already felt they were fighting for their rights, the Clinton win can feel particularly threatening, Bergman, owner of the Growing Generations surrogacy organization and board member of the LGBT parenting organization Family Equality, tells Yahoo Beauty. “People were really invested in Hillary winning, and this represented such a hopeful moment for so many people,” she says. “And because Trump was so out there with his news and not at all afraid to express hate, I think people are really afraid.”

Her own daughters, who are 17 and 20 years old, remember the stress of California’s Prop. 8 back in 2008. “It was a referendum on our family,” she says. “But so many [younger kids] have always just lived in this wonderful Obama bubble, so they are really afraid about how the incoming administration has made no secret of their feelings toward LGBT people. They feel a direct threat — like Mexican-American families, and like Muslim-American families.”

It’s important to explain to kids of practically all ages, Bergman says, “that in social justice movements, it’s always three steps forward, two steps back — but always a path forward. Sometimes we have to take a hit. This is what a justice movement looks like: It’s not linear. There is a pendulum that swings.”

Little kids, meanwhile, need more basic reassurances. “Tell them, ‘You are safe, you are loved, there are so many people surrounding us with love, and bullies win in the short-term but love always prevails in the long-term,’” she says. “Just give kids context, no matter what their age. And let them know we will continue the social justice movement: that’s what we do.”

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