How Do We Talk to Our Kids?
Yesterday was a very tough day. In the morning I arrived at my daughters’ middle school and saw Muslim girls, comforting a crying friend who was scared and upset at the thought of a Trump presidency. A Chinese-American boy expressed confusion about Hillary not winning despite her wining the popular vote. My daughter and her friends sent “snaps” that said “The world is ending.” Teachers who work with our mostly English Learner population had red eyes from crying at the morning staff meeting. They told me students were asking them if they would be targeted for violence or deported. An American-born Latina parent told me her son, expressed similar concerns.
Add these to the LONG LIST of concerns I already had as a middle school parent for the emotional and physical well-being of students at our school.
Other than telling teachers to take 1st period to unpack recent events, as a parent I was unsure what structures existed at my daughters’ school for families and staff to openly discuss the way Trump’s election is impacting the lives of students, families and staff.
Five Ways to Support Children as a Result of this Election
Because so many folks are asking about ways they can be responsive to the recent uptick in violence in our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools, I’ve put together a list of ideas for all parents and teachers to help kids process the results of this election.
1. Tell children they are safe and you care about them.
This can be a tough one, because sometimes as adults, we may not be sure this is always true. Nonetheless, very young children need to know their world is safe, so it is important for adults to reassure them. Older kids can handle more information. Don’t candy-coat the realities of what is going on right now. Nonetheless, it is still important for children to see we will do anything and everything to protect and support them.
Parents – Tell you children they are safe and loved. Acknowledge their feelings and fears. Reassure them you are a family, by caring and loving for one another we will be OK.
Educators – If you haven’t already, publicly state you care about all students, your classroom and school are a family. You are committed to standing by and with them.
At my kid’s school today. I will never stop fighting for all our children. pic.twitter.com/kCHybe3UlI
— SF_Robin (@sf_robin) November 10, 2016
2. Give children space to unpack experiences*
Check in with kids and give them safe spaces to unpack their experiences. The more open you are about this process the better. Let them know you are OK with them sharing any thoughts or feelings they may have about what is going on in the world around them. Just listen. Be ready to provide hugs, and connect them with resources where necessary.
Educators: Leave space open in your lesson plans for open dialogue about feelings about this election. Use any number of “check in” frameworks to provide structure for your conversation. For example: “What are your HOPES and FEARS based on the results of this election?” Allow students to opt out of sharing or to express feeling in whatever way they need to.
*IMPORTANT: If you are in Trump country, ensure you are preempting harassing language by reaffirm classroom agreements about language BEFOREHAND.
Please stop telling people to respect others' opinions. That's for things like "I don't like coffee" not for "I don't like black people."
— Xannie Woodard (@XannieW) November 9, 2016
3. Talk about mental health, community support and self care.
Explain we all feel scared, mad, and sad at times. This is normal. Share ideas about what you do to make yourself get support. Generate lists with them to create a family or class Self-Care Ideas List. You can experiment with trying things out each day.
— SF Public School Mom (@AliMCollins) November 5, 2016
(Read more about this.)
4. Reaffirm student AGENCY and provide PATHWAYS to action
Shawn Ginwright writes that in order for hope and healing to occur, students need to believe they have the ability to create positive change in their world (that’s agency). They also need to see ways to exercise that agency (systems and structure are pathways).
Parents and teachers can ask students to remember times they did something that had a positive impact for themselves or others. (Making students themselves think of these things is also a form of agency!) Next, work with them to identify and co-create pathways to action.
Here is a great example of a teacher that is doing just that:
5. Teach kids that privilege can hurt AND help.
Take a look at this diagram of the Pyramid of Hate below.
— SF Public School Mom (@AliMCollins) November 9, 2016
When folks with privilege or power don’t acknowledge abusive behavior at the bottom level of the pyramid (and the most benign) it escalates. For example, if children call each other mean names, and parents or teachers don’t do anything about it, name-calling can become normalized. Name-calling can then easily escalate to pushing and shoving. If this goes uncheck this in turn can escalate into physical fighting. It is important to respond to oppressive and abusive behavior before it escalates. And folks with privilege and power will have the most success at addressing it.
Here’s the bright side! We are all members of privileged groups. When we speak up and support members of marginalized communities, we create positive change in our communities. Members of marginalized groups can also build power by banding together (as in the Civil Rights days, or the #BlackLivesMatter movement today) to push back.
What are you doing to help your children or students deal with the strong feelings of sadness, fear, and anger this election is bringing up in them. Please share ideas in the comments below.
Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.
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