My tween son has been stressing out lately. On a recent morning, he hugged me and said, “Mom, what are we going to do?”
After sitting down and talking with him I realized something. He wasn’t only speaking about the new president-elect. He knows we are a divided nation right now. He knows people are hurting. He knows people are angry. He isn’t just concerned about Trump, he’s concerned about our community and our country. That’s a heavy burden for a kid who can’t even vote yet.
My daughter, who is in middle school, has a wonderful teacher who posted a Facebook message for all parents, reminding us that our kids need to feel safe. These 11-year-olds sit in her classroom for six hours a day and she let us know they were scared.
They are worried for their peers who are gay or trans, and they are afraid for themselves. “Some kids are confused because they are seeing a lot of strong emotions at home and aren’t sure what to think. It’s not about an argument or a fight. It is about understanding. Empathy.”
Our wonderful kids, our future generation, our babies — they are exposed to so much, even if they aren’t sitting in front of the television, even if they aren’t on social media, even if we have tried to keep our political talk to a minimum lately. They can feel our emotions. They are sponges absorbing all that is around them and they need help processing this.
They will continue to look to trusted adults (parents, teachers, coaches, etc) to be an example and to lead the way. They are searching for some sense of normalcy. They need support and validation, and we need to show it to them. This is how we do that:
We listen to them and to each other. We have an open mind. We show them what it is like to have an educated, respectful dialogue. We show by example what our values are. We can take a stand and not be belligerent. We can admit when we are wrong, or when we need to learn more about something before forming a concrete opinion.
We will walk together.
Teachers (thank God for our teachers) are working with students to come up with classroom mission statements. This collaboration process and tying together a central message of support and acceptance for their peers is essential.
Students are focusing on sending the message to our future leaders that they are not satisfied with this administration. They will not tolerate hate or exclude one another. They are organizing peaceful rallies. They are posting messages of support on social media. They are hanging signs in their school hallways. They are calling their senators to share their voices. They are creating a safe space for their scared peers to reach out for help. Our children and their devoted teachers are amazing.
We let them know they have a voice.
We need to encourage our children to speak out against injustice. They do not have to be an idle bystander. They have wonderful opportunities every day to help bring their peers together by setting the tone of acceptance and respect in their interactions with their peers, teachers, and other adults.
We teach them to be kind.
Small acts of kindness, each and every day, are what we need right now. Adults need to be doing this, and kids need to see adults doing this. They will absorb the good just as much as they will absorb the confusion and negativity. These good deeds, smiles, volunteerism, and kind gestures have the ability to tip the scales.
We let them know they make a difference.
Their voice matters, how they act matters, and how they treat others matters. Voting is not the only way to make a difference. We are capable of bringing about positive change, even if we are brokenhearted.
Encourage your kids to research issues that are important to them, and encourage them to turn that passion into action through volunteering, fundraising, etc. Empower them, so they will be inclined to empower others.
We continue to educate them.
They need to know how the democratic process works. The President doesn’t get to just sit in the Oval Office and implement every idea that pops into his brain.
That is the thing about our beautiful country. We are allowed to challenge certain decisions we feel are unjust, and we can do so in a peaceful, civilized way.
They need to be reminded the President has a job to serve all Americans, not just the ones that voted for him. We have to have hope that this job will humble Trump. We have to.
We tell them love trumps hate, and then model that.
We can say it over and over, we can wear the pins, we can talk the talk, and march the march, but we need to put it into action. We need to do the work. We need to live it. And from where I sit, we are starting to. We are starting a movement. We need to make it known we have no tolerance for racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, or victim blaming.
As parents, we must show our kids that actions speak louder than words.
This movement of unity has been started. I see it everywhere, and I hope you do too — in schools, the grocery store, town offices, and restaurants. Just yesterday, I saw a sign in my local Target that someone had stuck to the mirror with a sticky note that read, “You matter.”
Let’s build on this. Let’s keep going and never stop.
We have so much work to do. If you haven’t seen the unity happen in your community, do something. Start something. Say something. Build something.
Our children are watching us.