Is Your Child More Anxious and Worried Since the Election?

During the election season, many of our children experienced a tremendous amount of stress and worry about who would win the Presidency.  It became especially apparent to me the night of the election. My daughters had invited a bunch of friends over to watch the election results.  As it became more clear from the news that Donald Trump might win, my younger daughter and her friends, who are all about 14 years old, looked at me with tears in their eyes and asked, “Allison, are we going to die?”

I was certainly not happy that Donald Trump might become President, but I wondered why they were reacting so acutely to the news.  “Why do you think that?” I asked. One after the other, they gave me their reasons why.  One child said, “My mom said if Donald Trump wins we will all be doomed.” Another girl said, “My dad said Donald Trump is incompetent and can’t run this country.” My daughter said, “Mom, I heard you ask dad ‘Do you want Donald Trump’s finger on the button?” I realized at that moment that a key reason they were so upset was because of the conversations many of us were having in front of our children about Donald Trump becoming President.  Interestingly, some of my friends who voted for Donald Trump also admitted to having had very little filter when they were having conversations about Hilary Clinton in front of their children.

As I looked at the fearful faces of these young girls, all I could do was imagine how worried and anxiety-ridden I would be if I were a 14-year-old child hearing from my parents that the world was not safe if a particular person became President. With much less life experience, our children view these comments as one-dimensional, which leaves little room for interpretation, creating complete doom and gloom for the future.  Our children already have a tremendous amount of stress about school, friends and other world events, including terrorism.  Many parents on both sides of the political aisle have added to their children’s worry and anxiety by not being more careful with their words before and after the election. As parents, we might have great concerns about politics and world events, but most of us know that there are actions we can take and possibilities that exist to keep fighting for the things that we believe in.  We don’t intentionally mean to frighten our children, but many of us don’t realize how, through our frustration, we can be careless when discussing our political views in front of them.

I sat down with my daughter and her friends on the couch and I explained that I was not happy about Donald Trump possibly becoming President, but we had no idea what would happen if he became President.  I let them know that UNCERTAINTY was on our side. Because we did not know exactly what would happen, the future was filled with hope and possibility.

I then proceeded to do the following exercise with them, which is similar to the Maybe mindset exercise I shared in week 3, but geared towards children. I asked my daughter and her friends what their biggest fear and worry was about Donald Trump.  They all just repeated to me that they were afraid that if he was elected, the world would come to an end.

1.  I asked them, “Do all of you know for sure this would happen?”  One child said, “Well, my mom said it would.”  I responded, “Do we know for sure what will happen in the next five minutes, thirty minutes or even tomorrow?”  They all agreed that they could take a guess but they couldn’t know for sure.  I then asked, “If all of you are not certain, can you imagine things happening other than the world coming to an end if Donald Trump becomes President?” They laughed and found it funny, as if they had just released a big fear that was haunting them. Next, I asked them, “How does the thought that other possibilities exist make all of you feel?”  Through some giggles, they all agreed it made them feel a lot better.

2.  I then challenged their original statement ‘If Donald Trump becomes President, the world will come to an end,” with the idea of Maybe.  I asked them what else could happen in the realm of Maybe.  Here are their responses: “Maybe the government is counting the ballots wrong and Hillary will end up winning; Maybe everything will still be okay; Maybe Donald Trump will pass some good laws; Maybe we can go back to the democratic headquarters (we had all phone banked there the prior weekend) and they will have some ideas; Maybe it will suck but the world won’t come to an end and we won’t die; Maybe we can fight what Donald Trump does, since my dad is a lawyer.”  I added, “In four years when you can vote, Maybe we can elect someone else and Maybe one day one of you will become President and solve the problems that the world faces today.”  I told them that they should keep on practicing Maybe statements every day and add to the list.

After the girls and I did the Maybe exercise the anxiety and fear had left their faces. I realized that as parents, many of us forgot to tell our children what would happen when and if our worst fears did come true. We forgot to tell them that there would still be air to breathe and possibilities to pursue.  Since that day I am much more careful about how I talk about Donald Trump and his policies in front of my children.  I want them to know what is going on, but I don’t need to add to their fears and worries and I always want them to hold hope for the unknown future. The exercise worked great on election night, and will also help when your child is stressed about homework, an exam, a social issue with friends or other world events.

Post-election, your children might be sharing their worries and anxieties with you or holding them in. Either way, some of our children are suffering right now.  And it is not just parents causing them to worry. Our children also watch the news and read articles themselves online. I strongly believe that children at an appropriate age should be exposed to current events and we should be sharing our opinions with them.  It is important that children are knowledgeable and active members of society.  However, it is also important to carefully frame these discussions and provide our children a perspective that will give them the strength and resilience to power through these uncertain times. We need to find a perspective that allows them to hold hope. The Maybe mindset offers them this and more. It offers light for all of the children even in the darkest days.

A few days after the election I was approached by a friend whose daughter had been at my apartment that night. She told me that when she got home her daughter had said, “Allison said I should stay in Maybe. It makes me feel better so I am going to stick with that.”

Stay tuned for my tips next week for Surviving Uncertain Times. For weekly information on how to reduce stress and worry follow me on @giftofmaybe, follow my blog or check out my book The Gift of Maybe.

Originally Posted In Psychology Today