No more bystanders: Parent tips for creating the change post-election

keepcalmadvocateLike many of you in the months leading up to the election and now post-election, I have experienced a wide range of emotions. However, I am not writing this post because I want to complain about the election and focus on who won or who lost. Nor am I writing this because I am a “sore loser”. I am writing this because I am saddened by what is happening in our country. So much hate and anger. As a behavioral pediatrician and a parent, I have been looking for a way to take those feelings and share them in ways to break out of the negativity and start moving forward. It is in the best interests of our children to do so.

As parents, we play a central role in our children’s lives. We are their first teachers. Children are constantly looking to their parents and other adults around them for cues as to how to respond to situations. This is what the role modeling principle is all about. In my opinion, it is a key parenting principle to understand. It helps to explain how parental anxiety is often associated with anxiety in the child. A child can sense a parent’s restlessness or unease and therefore will approach a new situation or person on “high alert”. It helps us understand why children raised in homes where they hear or witness violence–physical or verbal–might go on to have poor conflict resolution skills, bully others and are more prone to aggression. It also can shed light on why some Americans are now terrorizing others on the basis of skin color, religion, gender, who they love and culture.

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In bullying research, there is often the bully, the victim and the bystander. Bystanders are those who witness or hear about bullying on the playground, in the halls, bathrooms, in public spaces or in cyberspace (cyberbullying). Bullying prevention programs place an emphasis on creating a peaceful school climate; one that promotes a safe place for all where bullying of any kind is not tolerated. The emphasis is on teaching that everyone plays a key role in speaking up against bullying. When we speak up for the victim, we acknowledge that someone is being treated badly/negatively and this behavior should be stopped immediately. The flip side also holds true: when we don’t speak up and instead turn a blind eye, hesitate because we fear for our safety or social standing or give in to discomfort and hope instead someone else will do speak out, the bullying continues.

As President Elect, Donald Trump will hold the highest office in the land and has the power to set the tone for the next four years. Millions at home and abroad are looking to him because he is now our 45th President of the United States. However, his actions (or rather, inactions) speak volumes. By NOT taking the lead on stopping the countless hate crimes and other heinous acts spreading across our country, he is in fact condoning the actions of those who now feel emboldened to outwardly terrorize, intimidate, harass, threaten and bully. Many are doing this in his name. The fact that it took 5 days post-election to finally say something, anything related to this matter is not acceptable.

We must not be bystanders. As we face post-election America, parents play a critical role in shaping their children’s behavior, attitudes and beliefs because they are watching and learning from us. I know there is a lot of anger, regardless of who you voted for. However, please be aware that we set the tone for our children who interact with others.

RELATED: The frightening effect of ‘Trump Talk’ on America’s schools

If you want or need to take some action, here are some tips for parents to help their children in the wake of the climate of our world today.

Parenting Tips to Move Forward:

  1. Take a moment to process your own feelings. These past few months have been hard for EVERYONE. It is unfair to take the stance that everyone should just “get over it and move on”. There is a lot of resentment and anger out there. Before we can set positive examples to our children, we must first be able to assume our coaching role. We cannot truly help our children understand and process their feelings if we have not yet come to terms with our own. Therefore we must take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally first.
  2. Role model appropriate behavior. Kids are looking to us as to how to interact with others. We must treat each other with respect. Remember the Golden Rule? Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. How we navigate our own strong feelings post-election provides children a “road map”. Be mindful of actions and words. If you catch yourself getting worked up or upset, take a break. Take a breather.
  3. Listen before reacting. It is easy to get swept up in “my candidate” vs “your candidate” or “my values” vs “your values”. In the heat of the argument we often go on the defense. This not only is counterproductive but it creates a vicious cycle. If you find yourself reacting with strong emotions, take stock and stop. Then take a deep breath. Then listen to the other side. If you can keep an open mind and emotions in check, start a discussion to understand other view points. Look for commonalities. Use the “yes…and” statement. Remember, keep the “but” out.
  4. Be proactive and be the change. Simple acts of kindness can go a long way. I have committed myself to tweeting a #kindness tip of the day in the coming month. In a show of solidarity in the days and months ahead, it is important to be the change we want to be. Even if it is remembering to acknowledge those around us with a hello or smile. By extending simple acts of kindness to those around us, it can make all the difference. Children will take heed and follow our example. Use books focused on building up assets. Check out this series by Free Spirit publishing, “Adding Assets Series for Kids“.
  5. Set limits to social media. As with anything, moderation is everything. Social media can put people in a negative or anxious mood. If you find yourself feeling these things as your scroll through your news feed, then it is time to stop. Instead turn on some music and dance, seek face to face conversation or hugs from loved ones/friends, exercise, get outside. Do anything but stare at the screen. Consider taking a tech break for a day.
  6. Pick your battles and then talk about it with your children. Sometimes dialogue cannot move forward for various reasons. If you feel yourself getting worked up and arguments/talk becomes circular, know when to leave it and move on. Some parents may choose to use instances like this as a teachable moment and talk about it with your children. Describe how you knew you were reaching your limits and how you chose to walk away/step away or not engage.
  7. Avoid generalizations. This is a critical thing to remember. People have various reasons for why they voted (or not voted). We must remember just like in medicine, we must not lump folks by their condition just because. If we want our children to be accepting and tolerant of others, we must not confuse the issue by making broad generalizations or casting blame. Just as in separation and divorce scenarios it is imperative that parents not talk negatively about the other parent in front of children. Having an outlet is one thing, but pick a different audience if possible. Children are sponges and will repeat things they say and hear, whether they fully understand the impact those words and actions have.
  8. Start a discussion about tolerance, acceptance and celebrate our collective strengths and differences. It is never too early to start discussions about how everyone is unique and different but we are all the same on the inside. Children’s books are a great way to start the conversation about these types of topics with young kids. Consider sitting beside your child while watching TV or movies and using scenarios to talk about the characters’ actions and words. See my other post about a children’s book about Agatha.
  9. Check in with your child. Yes, sometimes the question, “How was school today?” is met with silence or at best, short one word answers “Ok” or “Fine”. However, if we don’t ask, we won’t know. Kids may need the invitation to share something they heard or saw that might be particularly scary or confusing. Consider asking children if they have seen or heard anything they would like to talk about. Follow up by listening and acknowledging feelings. Correct misinformation. Children may come home and question things they have heard or seen.
  10. Get out and volunteer. Whether it be with others from your church or others in the community, taking time to volunteer to help for any cause can give children the first hand experience of what it feels like to lend a helping hand to others in time of need.  Check out sites such as www.generationon.org or www.idealist.org orwwwcreatethegood.org

We cannot afford to be complacent in the wake of ongoing hate, racism, and sexism. We have the power to control how we respond to our environment and ensure our children can navigate these times as well. Sometimes feelings of overwhelm, despair and apathy can set in. Our kids are listening and watching. The everyday, smaller actions we take inside our homes and with our children are a critical first step to setting us on the path to healing.

For more reading:
1. Talking to Children about the Election: A Message from the AAP (www.healthychildren.org)
2. How to Talk to Children about Difficult News and Tragedies (www.apa.org)
3. Do your kids have post-election stress? Learn to help them cope
4. Stopbullying.gov (kids and parents and teachers sites)