How to Talk to Your Kids About the Election (and build resilience).

At this point, I’m going to guess that you’re feeling elated and hopeful or scared, anxious and/or concerned. Perhaps you’re somewhere in between or just apathetic. If you fall into the “I don’t know what to say or how to talk to my kids about this” category, here is a 4 step process that I hope will help you turn this problem into an opportunity for you and your child.

  1. Get support for yourself with friends and/or family or even strangers to vent, commiserate, yell, cry or whatever else you need to do (this was helpful for me).
  2. Once you’ve gotten some of that out of your system, ask your child questions, listen and empathize. Then ask more questions and keep listening and empathize some more. Continue this pattern as long as possible.  Kids need space and time to gather and reflect on their thoughts (especially if they’re different than yours) and emotions. The goal here is to get them to share without worrying about your reaction. If your child has nothing to say then it’s likely either not a good time, they’re uncomfortable sharing or they’re not used to being asked their opinion about things.
  3. Put some positive context around it. For example:
    • Voting is still a privilege that many in the world do not have.
    • While she didn’t quite break the presidential glass ceiling, Hillary Clinton has shattered many others and is still an amazing role model for girls (and she won the popular vote).
    • A lot of positive things came out of local elections. Some great leaders have been elected. In Oregon, measures were passed for more funding for affordable housing, outdoor school programs and vocational education.
    • We get to live in a safe and free society with laws and a checks and balance system for a reason (A president can only do so much).
    • Many of you have kids who will be able to vote in the next election. This is why it’s so important to vote.
  4. Focus on problem solving and taking action. The fact remains that people who perform acts of kindness towards others and the world are happier and more well adjusted. Encourage your child to identify a cause that they’re concerned about and then help them get involved with it. Teens today are very socially conscious and eager to get involved in meaningful causes and activities.

Resilience is a learned trait. It’s the ability to bounce back from defeat, failure and setbacks. Your teen or preteen, because of their developing prefrontal cortex, is more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress compared to us. But they’re also more easily able to learn and develop resilience and problem solving skills.

An opportunity awaits us to teach and model these skills to our kids.

Seth Godin is an inspiring author who writes and talks about ethical business and marketing. The day after the election he posted this:  “When we’re sure it’s not going to work, when we can’t figure out where to turn, when we don’t know what to do next… Sometimes, our ability to do the best we can in small ways is enough to start moving forward.”

I think that’s great advice whether we’re at work, struggling in our role as a parent, or figuring out what to do with our feelings about this election.