Late on Election Day, as victory slipped further and further out of Hillary Clinton’s reach, CNN commentator Van Jones had some powerful words.
“It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us,” he began. “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. And then you have this outcome.”
“You have people putting children to bed tonight, and they’re afraid of breakfast,” he said. “They’re afraid of, ‘How do I explain this to my children?'”
Truthfully, this is hard to explain. In many cases, you might feel like you can’t explain Trump’s election to your kids. But as any parent or teacher knows, you also can’t crawl into a hole and hide away during dark times. Our kids need us to be brave, to explain things to them that may not make sense, and to give them some sense of hope.
So I talked to five people who are helping our kids this week. I asked them how they’re handling those difficult conversations. This is what they said.
1. Meet Leyna Odell and her 6-year-old daughter, Piper.
“I talked to my daughter about it and said I was sad my side lost but that now we have to try more than ever to be kind and helpful to people,” Leyna wrote.
She told her daughter that she needs to be a friend to everyone and help people who might be scared of hurting. Then she encouraged Piper to draw out her feelings.
Leyna explained, “It’s ‘the week we don’t like,’ showing Clinton supporters in the rain, her voting for Clinton, and then a picture of an angry guy saying he doesn’t like anyone with her asking, ‘Can I help?’
2. Meet Lindsay Reno, a sixth-grade teacher outside of Boston.
Lindsay said most of her students are immigrants or children of immigrants, from places like the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Haiti. About 80% of them speak a language other than English at home.
“What made today really difficult is, as a teacher, you have the obligation to be a calming force among your students,” she said. “But it was hard not to show our feelings on our faces as we talked to our kids (on Wednesday).”
“There were some kids crying really hard because they were worried about their parents being deported.”
Lindsay said she did not tell her students that Donald Trump should not be president. That, she said, would be crossing a moral line. Instead, she wanted them to understand how the electoral college works, what the Constitution says, and how the system can improve.
But after she explained that, it was pretty obvious that the conversation would need to go further. “There were some kids crying really hard because they were worried about their parents being deported,” she said.
So she and her fellow teachers did the best they could to be there for the students, listen to them, answer their questions, and above all, show them that they are loved.
“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” she said. “It wasn’t perfect.”
But it was a start.
3. Meet Genevieve Fitzgerald Davis and her 4-year-old son, Jonah.
Jonah is too young to follow the election closely, but even he could see Trump’s unique brand of hatred and bigotry.
“At one point he was with my mom, and they were watching the news, and Jonah said, ‘Oh, that’s Donald Trump, he doesn’t like me.'” Genevieve said. “He made the connection himself; he said, ‘He doesn’t like me because I’m brown, and Donald Trump doesn’t like brown people.'”
The day after Trump became president-elect, Genevieve said she and Jonah only briefly touched on the results. “I didn’t want to ruin his whole day,” she said.
But she did tell him two things. First, when Jonah was confused because “Donald Trump is not nice,” she told him that it didn’t matter because they were always going to be nice to people. And second, she wanted him to know that just because the result wasn’t what they wanted, it didn’t mean they weren’t going to fight for something better.
“The more I can help out with my local government or donations or volunteering, I want him to see me as an example,” she said. “I want him to be proud of me.”
4. Meet Patrick Wilson, a high school teacher.
“Kids are definitely more informed than they used to be,” Patrick said of his ninth-, 10th- and 12th-grade social studies students.
So he didn’t hold back on diving into the nitty gritty with them. As each period entered his room, they were met by the full electoral college map on the front board. Patrick led discussions on how Trump won key battleground states and how his election might affect the Supreme Court and the actions of Congress.
But the nuts and bolts of the election wasn’t the only thing on the kids’ minds.
“The hardest question I got today, one that took me back, a kid said, ‘I don’t understand how the country elected a racist.'” Another girl was worried about Mike Pence and his harsh views on abortion rights.
Patrick didn’t know how to answer. He just tried to be a comforting presence as much as he could.
“I said, ‘He’s going to be President Trump, not King Trump,’ He’s not going to be able to do whatever he wants.”
5. Meet Emily Ellsworth and her 6-year-old daughter, Abigail.
Emily has spent the majority of this election cycle actively campaigning for Hillary Clinton. So her 6-year-old daughter, Abigail, quickly became enamored with the idea of our country’s first female president.
It gave her hope that she, too, might one day run the country. “She told me several times that she thought she’d be next,” Emily said. But it was not to be, at least not this election cycle.
“(Wednesday) morning she woke up and ran into my room and asked me who won, and I had to tell her,” Emily said, holding back tears of her own. “She didn’t believe me. She was in shock. And she cried.”
Emily says she had planned on talking to her daughter about the importance of hard work, preparation, and kindness. About how people came together to vote for what was right. Instead, she’s giving her a lesson on how to deal with crushing disappointment. But Emily is determined to find a positive lesson in all of this.
“We’re going to have some hard conversations about protecting and being there for her friends who are scared,” she said. “Children, and adults, who are scared of what a Trump presidency represents for them.”
The one common thread I found is that we can’t hide from this.
But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We can fight back by being kind to one another, by maintaining hope, and by continuing to work toward a better world.
Whatever we choose to do, America’s children will be watching.
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