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Post-Election Family Advice: Children Seeing Adults Experience Big Feelings

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Like no other presidential election in history, this one has divided our country and caused more upset than any other in recent history. The children are hearing about this major event but do not possess the life experience to understand why adults are reacting with such strong emotion. Children are quite adept at picking up on the feelings of adults and half the parents are joyful and hopeful while the other half are devastated and fearful.They may not fully comprehend what is driving those emotions, but they most definitely pick up on the intensity of the feelings. For those children who have specific needs in the form of learning or cognitive disabilities, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, or anxiety, their sense of what others are feeling may be even more intense.This can cause these children to feel more unsettled, uncomfortable, or anxious than other children.

Here are a few tips on supporting your child in times when adult feelings run high and may not be controllable:

  1. Children can be fearful of strong emotions. It is important that we help a child understand that strong feelings are natural and even necessary, and not something to be feared.Letting them know that parents have big emotions, too, can reassure them for the next time when they have their own strong feelings. Try to avoid saying things like “don’t worry” or “calm down.” Children would do that, if they could, so you may be asking a child to do something that is beyond his or her capabilities. Tell your child that you have had big feelings before and that you know those feelings will not last forever.
  2. Many families like to watch the news together. Although keeping up with current events is an important educational tool, monitor the content so that your child is not viewing news topics that he or she is not developmentally ready to digest. Even reports about natural disasters or impending storms can be very anxiety-provoking for sensitive children. He or she may internalize the news and feel as though the problems of the world are things that he or she should try to solve rather than doing the work of being a child. Reaffirm to your child that, while bad things may happen, he or she is safe and adults are working together to take care of things and help each other.
  3. It is very important to keep in mind that when a child is exposed to strong emotions and high levels of stress, he or she may react to those emotions in atypical or behaviorally inappropriate ways. Your child may act out by becoming whiny, stubborn, clingy, or abrasive. Use child-friendly language to help your child understand what is going on around him or her. Try not to discipline your child for reacting this way, but rather help him or her process these high levels of stress.
  4. Model and give your child concrete ways to cope with high levels of emotion or stress. Performing a random act of kindness is a great way to channel stress and anxiety. Doing for others can be a great mood booster.
  5. When increased stress is due to events that are being reported on the news, unplug for a time and enjoy a calming activity with your child such as reading, working on a craft project, or taking a nature walk.

There will be times when children see the emotional side of their parents. Parents may be crying, swearing, or even protesting in the streets. Seeing the vulnerable side of a parent is frightening to kids since they look to the adults in their lives to be strong and capable. Acknowledge how you are feeling to your children and explain that you know this feeling will be temporary. Show them that you are stronger than your worry. Discuss how you will be more involved in the next election if you disagree with this one. Stand up for the political gains that you are fearful to lose. Teach them to find acceptance while taking up activism. Help them understand that you will not let worry win.

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