Educators report a school environment plagued with harassment, anxiety, and derogatory language. Here's how to help kids cope.
I'm sure this won't really surprise anybody all that much, but according to an online survey of more than 10,000 educators, the recent presidential election has negatively impacted students' behavior and mood.
In the first days after the 2016 election, a group called Teaching Tolerance administered an online survey to K–12 educators from across the country, and the findings indicate that the results of the election are having a pretty big impact on schools and students—and not in a good way.
For starters, 90 percent of the educators reported a negatively-affected school environment, and most of them admit being worried about the continuing impact. A staggering 80 percent have witnessed heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, and LGBT. Forty percent have heard derogatory language directed at minorities. Half said the students were targeting each other based on which candidate they'd supported. And, perhaps most jarring, while more than 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment following the election—things like graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, and threats of violence—a whopping 40 percent don't think their schools have any action plans in place to counteract the behavior.
We reached out to Janine Domingues, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, for some advice on helping your children though this difficult time.
"During a time of uncertainty, children look to adults for guidance on how to behave," she said. "Start by explaining to your child what bullying is—it involves an imbalance of power, with the intent to harm, and it's repetitive. It's also not just physical, but verbal. Also explain to your child that no type of bullying is tolerated and help keep lines of communication open and easy so they know you are there for them if bullying does occur."
In addition, Dr. Domingues says parents can help distinguish for their child the difference between what is tolerated as a differing view and what is not, in order to help reduce inflammatory statements that fuel intense emotions.
"Parents can model ways of talking about their views and beliefs without placing judgment on those who may have differing views," she told us. "For example, judgments like 'that's silly' or 'that's stupid' really increase the emotional intensity of a conversation. Show your kids that instead of using language like that, you can disagree without judging the other person. Be mindful of how you are discussing topics related to the election at home. Parents are really helping by modeling healthy coping and discussion."
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And don't forget to remind your kids about the importance of seeking help if they need it from someone they trust—both in and outside of school. "Deciding beforehand who they can go to in the event of bullying increases the likelihood that they will go to that person," Dr. Domingues explained, adding that if the bullying is occurring at school, you should notify them about what is happening right away and form a partnership to explore what the school policies are and what they will be doing to remedy the situation.
The report also offers a set of recommendations to help school leaders manage student anxiety and combat hate speech and acts of bias. Click here to check it out.