The post-election news, social media, and our own minds are filled with shock, joy, outrage, anxiety and despair following the November 8th voting tally. Call volume to crisis hotlines Tuesday night was more than twice as high as past elections. But I’ve never known an election that had such a dramatic affect on kids. Everywhere I go — schools, my yoga class, the elevator at work – I hear parents talking about how anxious, joyful, or heartsick this presidential election has made their children.
Politics is, at its core, a competition. It’s like a spelling bee, play tryouts, or a peewee soccer match. There will be winners and losers, every time.
Part of why we parents encourage our kids to compete is not because of the long-shot chance to secure a college scholarship. It’s because we know learning how to win – and how to lose – are essential life skills. And we understand, often far too well, how hard both emotions are to conquer with grace.
Of the two outcomes, winning gets far more attention and kudos. But losing is the more critical life lesson: how to compete passionately, accept losing gracefully, and continue with your goals and self-esteem intact. (See Hillary Clinton’s concession speech.)
So what we parents need to do, first and foremost, is to set a stellar example for the children in our life right now. If your team won, don’t gloat. If yours lost, don’t sulk or fume or make idle threats to move to Bora Bora. Kids, especially those under 12, don’t know how to place these adult comments and vents in context. Some – most? — children take us literally. So save the glee or rants for the confines of our own minds when discussing the election results around children.
Another big opportunity here is to teach kids about empathy, for themselves and the other side. No matter whether the format is a 5K race, or the race for the White House, ask your kids to stop and consider how the other side, winners or losers, feels. Narcissism is, by definition, characterized by an inability to place oneself in someone else’s shoes. Kids are not born with this emotional muscle: we parents teach our children how to feel for others, and it makes our kids, and our society, stronger in the long run.
Lastly, neither fear nor anger constitutes a plan for anyone’s future. Reassure your kids that you’ll be steady and reliable, no matter what the next four years may bring. That’s a campaign promise we can all keep.