How I Talked To My Kid About Trump

I waited until my seven-year-old was done with his breakfast to break the news. "Do you remember the election was yesterday?" I asked. "Yeah? Who won?" he said. I had to tell him: Donald Trump.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

We had chatted throughout the year about what a president is and why I believed Hillary was the best choice for the job. I talked him down when he would extrapolate those thoughts into declarations like, "Donald Trump is evil!" or, "Everything Donald Trump says is a lie!" I think it's important not to write people off as evil. And according to Politifact, only 70 per cent of Trump's fact-checked statements are outright lies.

But we had also talked about what a Muslim is, and that Trump was discriminating against Muslims even though we should all be nice to people no matter what their religion is. I shared my thoughts on why Trump's immigration positions were wrong, and why we need to accept refugees. I explained, not for the first time, about what racism is and that it's real today. Otherwise he might believe, like so many grownups do, that racism is a historical factoid only to be discussed in history class.

And so when I answered his question at breakfast, all of this must have come rushing back. He immediately scrunched up his eyes and opened his mouth and wailed heavenward.

The problem is, it's hard to tell how upset he really is. This is the same reaction he has when it's time to turn off TV for the night, or when he asks for oatmeal and I make him oatmeal but in the meantime he decides that he has, in fact, always hated oatmeal.

We continued our discussion for a few more minutes before it was time to get dressed for school. In that time, I did my best to explain what the election results meant for us, and gave him an opportunity to ask questions. He seemed satisfied with the answers, and pretty soon was chattering on an unrelated topic. I don't know when or whether he will break down crying again. But in case it helps, here is how I approached that talk.

What I Said

Reassuring someone without adding to their fears is a fine line to walk. These were my talking points; feel free to steal them.

  • I will keep you safe always, to the absolute best of my ability. I didn't go into specifics about any fears; my mind was running wild and we don't yet have enough information to know exactly what damage Trump will do. But as his mother, I will always love and protect him with every ounce of strength I have.
  • Now, more than ever, it is important for all people to look out for each other. I rehashed talking points from our previous discussions of kindness and bullying: We stand up for others and keep them safe. We even befriend bullies if we can. I have told my child it is his job, personally, to go out of his way to offer friendship to anyone who is having a hard day or who looks lonely.
  • The president isn't the boss of everything. I reminded him there are lots of other people in the government who would have to go along with a bad idea before it can become a problem in the real world. For Australians, though US election does have global consequences, the Australian government is in charge of things, so the US president can't cause too many problems in Australia. And we can call and write to some of those people to ask them to make good decisions.

The right talking points will be different for every kid. Sometimes you'll realise that there is a topic you haven't broached with your child, or that they don't understand in the way you thought they do. Racism and xenophobia and sexism are hard things to talk about, but we do our children an injustice if we pretend they don't exist. I've done my best to talk about these topics at a level my child can understand, but I kind of forgot to explain how the US government works beyond the fact that there is a president. ("Did you know each country has its own president?" he asked me once, apparently in shock.)

What Kids Need to Hear

Kids who are old enough to understand the issue deserve to hear about it from a trusted source, like you. PBS Parents recommends bringing up difficult topics before kids ask, because they will probably hear about it somewhere else and start worrying — and not bother to tell you.

For young children, under age seven or so, Common Sense Media's advice on news stresses that kids mostly just need to know that they are safe. To avoid upsetting them, don't keep the news on (or talk about it) nonstop. Distract them, and yourself, with activities like watching a movie while hugging the bejeebers out of them.

For older kids, Common Sense Media recommends being available for conversation, but letting the child lead. You can ask them what they have heard, for example, but don't volunteer the worst news if you're not sure whether they will understand and be able to process that information. For example, I stopped just short of telling my son that some children have begun to worry they or their family members will be deported. If he hears that idea and wants to talk about it, I'm there for him. But he's young enough that facts and fears are not easily distinguishable. Children this age may misunderstand bad news and conclude that they, personally, are in immediate danger.

As kids get older, they need less help in understanding what's happened in the news, but they can still have a hard time processing that knowledge in healthy ways. Common Sense recommends asking teens what they have heard and what they think of it. At this age, they are developing political opinions, and you should hear them out before attempting to step in and correct them if you disagree. Their understanding of danger will be better than a younger child's, but may still be out of proportion.

Teachers may want to check out discussion questions like these from the New York Times aimed at starting a conversation about what a Trump win means for young people and for the world.

Back to the littlest ones, like my seven-year-old, try to build the conversation on discussions you've had before, or stories that your child can relate to. My kid wondered aloud if Trump might have a change of heart. "That's possible," I said. "His heart might grow like the Grinch."

I realised that analogy could go a bit farther: Even though the Whos were overseen by a grinch, they still showed their love for each other no matter what that old grinch said or did. That's the best advice I could give.


Comments

    You are delusional. Trump is the best thing to happen to America.It's the end to most corruption and Hillary, hopefully , will be prosecuted for her crimes like "pay to play".
    All these childlike people protesting remind me of children. If they don't win , they take the ball home and won't play anymore.

      I agree 100%. Seems to me like she's teaching her 7 year old about HATE. Just by his original outburst spewing hate told me that she's only telling him the bad about Trump, not the good. She's also probably one of those idiots protesting in the streets. And people wonder what's wrong with America. Besides, I've never met a 7 year old who completely understands politics. She should be teaching her son that we all should respect the office of President. I'll continue to pray for her, her son and all the other "haters" right now.

      So you are going to ignore the fact trump himself said he would ignore and protest the result if it was against him. And encouraged his supporters to riot if they lost?

    Why didn't you have an article about how to explain bad things to kids like what happened in Nice, France
    Trump is worse than terrorism right?
    EVERYONE I DONT LIKE IS HITLER! WAAAAAAAH!

      Did... did you read the article at all? That's the exact opposite of what the author did.

      We had chatted throughout the year about what a president is and why I believed Hillary was the best choice for the job. I talked him down when he would extrapolate those thoughts into declarations like, "Donald Trump is evil!" or, "Everything Donald Trump says is a lie!" I think it's important not to write people off as evil. And according to Politifact, only 70 per cent of Trump's fact-checked statements are outright lies.

      Last edited 11/11/16 1:06 pm

    Jesus Christ, were terrifying the kids now?
    Trump will be a puppet for the absolute majority that is now the GOP, if you want to tell your kids horror stories, tell them about what happens when a complete money driven, war mongering party like the Republicans, get into power. Remember what happened when W got elected?

    Or you could avoid tormenting your kid with stories about the Trump boogeyman prior to the election, and therefore avoid having to deal with their reaction when you tell them the boogeyman won.

    The kid is seven, let them be a 7 year old without foisting all your adult hangups, anxieties and fears on them.

    It was all love and equality and sunshine and lollipops when everyone assumed Clinton would win, now that didn't happen those same people preaching, have thrown the toys out of the cot and abandoned their core morals to be full of hate and disdain. #whatawonderfulworld

    When I told my kid I got a blank look and the reply

    Huh?

    I guess that's what happens when Lifehacker AU fails to filter out all the US junk like they used to. You get people who are not American and who really don't care one way or the other.

      Hiya,

      I don't know, mate... I do know a lot of non-American people that had been watching the US election closely because they're concerned about the implications for the rest of the world.

      I know there will always be people who won't be interested in the more US centric content on Lifehacker, but we do keep track the number of visitors for each article and we do see a lot of local readers reading US election content. That's the reason why we decided to let a few of these US articles run; because this information may still be relevant to a large portion of our readers.

      Hope this helps! :)

      Spandas

        Panda, some people just don't get how interconnected the US is, with not just Australia, but a whole load of other countries. Ignorance is apparently is not bliss in their cases. No need to apologise, just try to educate.

        Last edited 11/11/16 7:32 pm

    I seem to be getting an error when posting comments - this is a test.

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