It is Time to Focus on the Children

It is Time to Focus on the Children

Turn off your televisions, computers, radios, and please, put down those smart phones. It is time to focus on the children! Whether you are happy or distraught about the outcome of the presidential election, optimistic or anxious about the future of our country, the children in our lives, toddlers to college-aged, are sensible of our emotions.  Our children need us now more than ever.

As a Child Development and Family Specialist, and owner of The Loved Child in Belmont, I have spent the last week fielding questions from anxious parents and extensively reviewing parental resources authored by experts in the field of child and family psychology. We are all in agreement, first and foremost, that we need to reassure the children in our lives that they are safe and we will continue to keep them safe- no matter what.

Don’t think for a moment that children have been immune to pressured adult conversations or have not been confused by public behaviors and language during and after the presidential campaign that they have been previously taught are hurtful and unacceptable. Even babies are not protected — research has clearly demonstrated that beginning as early as infancy, children are very capable of analyzing our facial expressions to determine what to do and how to feel. Regardless of age and family perspective, all children may feel uncertain or frightened with the political upheaval ahead. Let’s face it — most of us struggle with change!

What can we do to reassure the children? For all our sakes, I suggest keeping daily routines — meal times, sleep and wake times, homework, and exercise — as stable and regular as possible.  Parents and other adults can engage older children in discussions about their perceptions of the election, the long history of smooth transitions of leadership, the strength of our political system, and the checks and balances in our structure of government that temper the impact a single individual can have.

I also suggest we worry less about having the correct answers and focus more on our listening skills. When a child asks a question and we don’t know the answer, we can simply say, “I don’t know.  Let’s figure it out together.” Then ask, “what do you think?” To keep the discussion flowing, try repeating or rephrasing what the child just said. Acknowledge her feelings. Don’t underestimate the power of simply listening. As Winston Churchill said,

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

What is too easily neglected is the need for adults to take care of themselves during these stressful times. We have all heard the instructions for adults to first put on their own oxygen masks before helping those around them. As we seek to best support our children through the uncertainty ahead, I recommend that we center and self-regulate ourselves first. Each of us fills our tanks differently — we meditate, exercise, pray, chat with friends, cuddle our pets, or take walks in nature to keep our stress in check. Remember, children of all ages are looking to us for reassurance and guidance – let’s model healthy coping strategies. And, when we vent anger or frustration or are smug or peevishly argumentative or make other mistakes (which we will!), let’s demonstrate for the children in our lives how to apologize and then move on to do what is right.

If you are pleased by the outcome of the election, know that your children may be puzzled by the very different reaction of some of their friends and peers.  If you are devastated, recall that we all have an obligation to respect the democratic process.  In either case, remember that it is critically important to support our children, and continue to teach and model the values we hope to instill. Use this time as an opportunity to recommit to what truly matters: kindness, acceptance of others different from ourselves, the power of listening, and the virtue of peacefully and steadfastly standing up for what we believe.

Click here to view the original article published in the Belmont Citizen-Herald on November 17th, 2016. 

Jennifer Gillette, MA is the owner and founder of The Loved Child (TLC Parenting Center) in Belmont, Massachusetts. TLC provides expert support and programming for families from infancy through adolescence.