Explaining a Donald Trump win to children
'It's the first time since 9/11 I've felt that kind of anxiety, alarm and fear in students'
As a red patchwork split the American map on the screen Tuesday night, my 11-year-old daughter slipped away to watch My Little Pony and drown out the election coverage.
She needed a saccharine escape.
For her, "Trump" has become a bad word. She uses it as a verb or to stand in for anything rude or crass.
Her response to the election results were raw.
"There's going to be a nuclear war."
I, like many parents, was left speechless. How was I going to explain a Trump win to my children and help them process it when I was struggling myself?
Many children across Canada headed to school Wednesday morning agitated, anxious and fearful.
They'd heard so many things about this man, watched him berate and attack a woman on television.
His effect on children was one of Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign ads.
Teachers describe spending hours reassuring stricken students.
"They came to school scared," said David McFall, principal of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Gatineau, Quebec, very close to Canada's capital, Ottawa.
"It's the first time since 9/11 that I've felt that kind of anxiety, alarm and fear in students," he said.
Almost every child had something to say, much of it reflecting negative rhetoric they'd heard about Trump, from media or parents, he said.
"It was almost 'to a child' when we walked through the door today. I was shocked to feel that anxiety and fear."
Six-year-olds ran to him incredulous, "You won't believe this, sir. Donald Trump won."
Others asked, "Why did the bully win?"
This belligerent man who seemed to espouse so many things — bullying, rudeness and racism — they were taught were wrong — was now president of the world's most powerful country.
Middle schoolers emotional
For older children, it's also confusing.
"What the hell? How did he get in!" yelled a teen at Ecole Kwayhquitlum Middle School in Port Coquitlam, B.C.
Once principal Laurie Ebenal calmed down the boy's inappropriate language, she said, she used this as a teaching moment to get students to explore the political system and values.
Had they overdosed on social media? What was making them agitated? How did the Donald Trump victory make them feel different than the Justin Trudeau victory? Why?
It also becomes a chance to question what is real and what is not on their Instagram and Facebook feeds.
"We have to be discerning when we look at Donald Trump and what he's going to be doing," said Ebenal.
"What I always say to parents — even around stuff like the Amanda Todd tragedy — we have to contain the horror, because our kids can't," she said.
Vent emotions first
Child psychology experts say it's important to let children vent first, to express how this is making them feel.
And to acknowledge that you've heard it.
Clinical counsellor Deborah MacNamara says children are anxious about the election results.
"This is reflective of where some of their parents are at," she said.
She urges parents and teachers to take a "strong lead," make sure children feel safe and be the voice of calm and reason.
Talk about the values in your home and how those will remain strong.
"Kids need to know that the adults are still in the lead. There is a way through. They are safe with their parents," she said.
"Kids follow the people they are attached to. So keep your relationships strong … keep anchoring children into that place," she said.
"Help those who are trying to make sense of things to find both their tears and their words, with people who they trust," said MacNamara.
Flipping the world right-side up again
While my vision of watching the election of the first female president with my daughter didn't happen, there's lots to discuss about Tuesday night.
We'll talk about Hillary Clinton's message, her encouragement directed at "little girls."
Her clarion call to "never, ever regret fighting" for what matters.
Not a bad lesson. Fall. Get back up. We'll hug and move on.