9 Tips for Talking About the Outcome of the Election With Kids
Former Vice President Joe Biden has won the 2020 presidential election. And after such a contentious election season, kids are going to have questions. Here's how to help your kids digest the news.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has won the presidential election, an election that saw record voter turnout in many parts of the country and votes took days to count in many key states—with protests breaking out for and against continuing the count. So in this election like no other, kids are going to have questions based on what they see from you at home, what they hear at school, or what’s on the news.
Kids pick up on more than you might expect about politics, says Bethany Robertson, the co-publisher and co-director of ParentsTogether. So you can let them be your guide in your conversations about politics. You can keep things simple for kids in grade school and younger based on lessons in school and at home, but for tweens and teens, you might want to pry a little deeper into what they see on their own online.
“Our kids are already feeling so much stress and anxiety due to COVID-19; we shouldn’t be surprised at all if they have some big feelings around election day, too; they are already carrying so much,” says Robertson. Here’s how to handle talking about the election with kids after such a tense election season.
1. Check in With Your Own Emotions
“As parents, we can first check ourselves,” says Robertson. “We know kids pick up on our own anxieties, so if you’re personally feeling pretty worked up, take a quick break if you can to let your heart rate slow down or your shoulders un-tense.”
It's a lot easier to start a conversation with your kids when you're feeling less panicked. And it's also important to address your own anxiety and emotions in their own right because if you're not OK, it's a lot harder to help kids get a grasp on this very stressful time.
2. Listen to Their Concerns
“The best way to make space for what kids need is to listen and hear them out," says Robertson. "Often, we may be surprised by the assumptions they are making or what has them worried in the first place. Giving them a safe place to share those worries and concerns is a great start."
“Allowing them to express themselves is always important—however your child likes to do that, whether it be by speaking, writing, drawing a story,” says Crystal Bowyer, president and CEO of the National Children’s Museum.
3. Don’t Minimize the Situation
“In an election that’s been as polarizing as this one, there are many parents who feel their communities or their way of life may come under attack depending on the outcome," says Robertson. "Those threats are real. It’s OK to say: ‘This is an important election, one that’s happening during a time when our country has a lot of challenges. What happens will have a real impact on our families, our friends, and our neighbors.’”
4. Share Your Own Reactions
“It’s also helpful for kids to know that they are not alone,” suggests Robertson. “You can say: ‘I’m thinking about this, too,’ or, ‘I wish we could know the outcome sooner, too.’ It may also help to give them the perspective that lots of kids are having similar thoughts; they are not alone.”
5. Focus on Values
No matter what the final results may be, it’s a chance to talk with your child about your values, says Robertson.
“If the candidate you supported wins, you can talk about what values put you in that person’s camp," she suggests. "What do you hope will happen with that person as president? And, if you are disappointed in the election results, you can have a similar conversation. What had you been hoping for? What might change? What might stay the same? And how, as a family, can you continue to work towards the kind of world you want?”
It’s important to teach children to respect those with different views, she says. “We can use words like, ‘I strongly disagree with our neighbor’s support for X, but we do have a choice, and they’ve made a different choice than us.’”
6. Talk About How Votes Are Counted
This year the election looks different than other years kids might remember, with more folks voting by mail than ever before. So it’s good to discuss why we did not know the outcome on election night.
It’s "totally fine and to be expected, and taking the time to carefully count everyone's vote is one sign that our democracy is working as it should,” explains Robertson.
For younger grade school kids, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, the executive director and CEO of MomsRising, suggests explaining the wait for results with an example they can relate to.
“Sometimes when we raise our hand in class to say what type of game we want to play at recess, it takes a while to tell all the people who have raised their hand," she says. "Some people are wiggly, some people are raising their hands from behind. Some people may have gone to the restroom, and we're waiting for them to get back. And we have to make sure that we count them so that everybody's fair.”
Now that we have the final results, you can help kids identify the people who helped to advance the process.
“What's important here is to look for the helpers,” says Rowe-Finkbeiner. “Who's helping to get votes counted? Who's helping to expand justice and fairness? And who's stepping up to support democracy?”
6. Reassure Kids That You Are There for Them
As adults, we know the political situation might escalate in these very tense times. And that can be scary for kids.
“For children who are especially anxious or frightened by the current political landscape, it can be especially helpful to let them know that you will do your very best to keep them safe and that your family will have each other no matter what happens,” says Robertson.
8. Remember the Scale
“One thing kids don’t usually have is context and a sense of the arc of time and history,” says Robertson. “We need to let them know that as a country we’ve faced hard times before and come out on the other side. Many have struggled along the way, but hopefully, there are always those fighting for a path towards progress.”
To put this into clear kid language, Rowe-Finkbeiner suggests talking about the helpers. “It's a series of helpers through history that have helped bring our nation forward towards justice. And it's going to take even more helpers to pull our nation forward towards the justice we all seek now.”
9. Take Things Offline
Even though we now know Biden will be our next president, there's likely to be round the clock news coverage for days. But putting up some boundaries is good for your mental health and your whole family.
“If you have the flexibility to plan something fun for you and your kids over the next few days, do it,' says Robertson. "If you can make time for a phone call or Zoom date with a friend, do it. When everything feels on edge and anxiety-producing, laughter, movement, and a bit of lightness can give everyone a much-needed release valve.”
And even though we have our new president, there's still work to be done to make your community a better place. "Make a commitment to yourself to take 15 minutes or more each week to help advance change and movement in our nation towards justice," says Rowe-Finkbeiner. "That can help stop burnout from too much news.”
She suggests putting 15 minutes in your family calendar each week to volunteer in your community or research a topic such as racial justice or gender justice and talk about it as a family.
“Giving kids a sense of their own agency helps," says Robertson. "What’s an issue or problem in your community that you can tackle together? Whether it’s something small or large, taking action helps our kids see their own power, and that builds their confidence and resilience.”