When election year comes around, it is like the Superbowl - or maybe American Idol - for me, for a year straight. (Only, obviously much more important.) I am totally in my glory, hooting and hollering for my candidate as the winners of the caucuses are announced. You should be a fly on the wall in my house on Super Tuesday...never mind election day. My eyes are glued to the screen of the television as the votes are counted and displayed.
Who becomes president is important to me. My kids have obviously seen this in my house, and also tend to get into paying attention to the polls and the rallies that only come around every four years. As a matter of fact, when President Obama was elected, we made sure my kids watched as he was inaugurated. We were so proud to tell our children they could be President one day...that moment in time, it seemed all racial barriers in their future had been eliminated.
Not So Fast
There is no doubt that presidential campaigns can get dirty. The advertising alone, slamming other candidates on often delicate subjects, can go beyond what we want our children to see and hear. However, this time around, one particular candidate (need I mention names?) has stirred up hate and discontent, violence, misogyny, racism. Other candidates have followed suit, maybe not as strong, but some very disgusting things have been said. Leading me to believe the excitement I felt about the breaking down of racial barriers was just a pipe dream.
Hearing the nastiness, watching the hate-inspired anger, it all makes me want to turn the television off and block my (sheltered) kids from the Internet, but I cannot block their ears from hearing what other children - or the teachers - are talking about at school.
Instead, I have turned the presidential campaign into a teaching lesson.
The racism that has been stirred up during the 2016 election campaigns has hit me in the heart like a newly sharpened knife. My kids have been exposed to ignorance, despite the efforts of my husband and I. They are mixed, half black, half white, so I have no choice but to talk to my kids about what is going on.
One of the best ways I have found to address the issues of violence and hate that we have seen plastered all over the television, internet, and newspapers is to talk to my kids and ask them questions. You would be surprised to hear their incredibly intelligent viewpoints!
"What do you think?" questions are my favorite, because they are open-ended and inspire kids to think. Starting with something as simple as, "What do you think about the presidential campaigns this year?" can open up some interesting conversations with your kids. Ask them what they think about people hitting other people at the rallies.
Ask and let them talk and listen.
Open-Ended, Think and Feel Questions
You can also use feeling questions. For instance, "How does it make you feel when you hear people saying mean things about other people?" Or "How does it make you feel when Donald Trump says mean things about people?" "How do you feel when you see people hitting each other at rallies?"
Try asking, "If you had five minutes with Donald Trump, what would you say to him?" Again, I think you would be astonished at what your children come up with! Let them talk about what they think and how they feel.
Sometimes, it seems easier to sweep topics under the carpet and try to shelter our kids from the storm, but they are going to hear things and see things that we cannot protect them from. So, why not take it as an opportunity to talk and to teach them that the fact that someone is running for President does not make them a stand-up person to admire. We can talk about which qualities we admire in people and which qualities we want to exhibit.
Addressing Ignorance & Racism
We can take the opportunity to teach our kids that ignorance is still wide-spread, and while the topic at hand hurts us to the core, hiding from it does not make us stronger. We can educate our children on the racial topics. Just because Trump says that "everyone in/from Mexico is..." or "all Muslims are terrorists" does not mean that it is the truth.
We can also take this opportunity to talk about truth vs. telling lies. How generalized lies can hurt people. How grouping people together according to their skin color or religion or place of birth is obnoxiously ignorant. How "hate" is actually a fear of the unknown.
My "Normal" is Not Your "Normal"
How being Muslim is "normal" to people who are part of the religion. How being a woman is "normal" for me - and any other woman. How being an eleven-person, mixed race family is our family's "normal." But, our "normals" are not what is "normal" to other people. And, what is not "normal" to people is foreign, and what is foreign often scares people or makes them feel threatened.
I could not explain to my children why people would actually support and vote for a misogynistic and racist pig, but I could talk to my kids about it. I think that is one of the most difficult questions my kids have asked: "Why are people voting for Trump, then?" Sadly, this is when I have to explain to my children that people fear what they do not know or understand. Anything that is not "normal" to them, as I mentioned, is foreign to them. And foreign, for most people, tends to be scary.
Ignorance is fear. Plain and simple.
Trump the Bully
One of the topics that has come up during talks with my kids is how Trump is a bully. My children came up with the assessment, which was another wonderful parenting moment for me. They were right! Trump is a big, ignorant bully!
As this conversation progressed, we tied the ignorance with fear and determined that Trump is a small-minded, insecure, scared bully hiding behind the facade of big, pompous, proud, powerful bully.
And, what happens with bullies? Think about the playground bully at school. The weak people follow them! The old saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" usually happens. Only those who are strong enough, deep down inside of themselves, will oppose the bully.
And, this is where my own children answered the question even I could not answer.
Why are people supporting Trump and his vicious rantings? Why is it so much easier to follow a bully than it is to challenge him/her? People are either natural leaders or they are followers. Only true leaders will have the inner strength, courage, and dignity to oppose him. Trump gallivants across the U.S., spreading hate and fear, and the weaklings of the country follow him.
Amazing how, when we boil it down to a child's level, it all makes perfect sense.
This opens up the conversation on bullies and how to deal with them. Even how to stand up to them.
What Kids Are Experiencing
Some of the incidents that have occurred lately make my stomach lurch and tumble, to be quite frank.
Last month, a mother posted this on Facebook last month, expressing her emotions about an incident that happened at her son's school:
This is not the first time people of Latino backgrounds have experienced hate. in February, an Iowa high school basketball faced taunting chants from their rival team. And it happened again, at an Indiana high school basketball game only weeks later, where Trump's words "build a wall" were turned into anti-latino chants to distract the opposing team.
And pro-Trump graffiti popping up colleges is being considered a "hate crime" by college students.
Sadly and ironically, Trump represents what America has always tried to pretend it was not. The racism, the misogyny, the bigotry, the inability to accept other people's "normals." Classifications and segregation. A fundamental need for bullies who lead the packs. A lust for - and attraction to - violence. Topped off with a theoretical, yet dejected voice of "change."
In a sense, Trump is exposing all of the skeletons that have been concealed in even the most prominent closets across America. He may even be teaching us, as parents, that touting the old adage, "Respect your elders" is actually telling our children that they must deny their incredible intuitiveness regarding right and wrong.
The lesson out of all of this, or what I have gathered, at least, is that, rather than shuffling what we would rather not talk about under the carpet, we need to talk to our children. Even if the topics are difficult. Even if they make us burn and boil inside. Even more especially if the subjects of conversation hit close to home.
We can actually learn something from our children. We may even find that we learn a ton from just a half hour chat with our kids about touchy subjects. The truth is, had I swept it all under the carpet, I would still be wondering why so many people support Trump. Maybe I would have figured it out on my own, but my point is that children see things from a different perspective than we do, however, their point of view is not as oblivious and sheltered as we think, no matter how hard we have tried to protect them.
We have to set the example, though. It is your decision to raise your children with whatever beliefs and values you want them to have. They are natural lovers and tend to be far more accepting than adults. Through our actions and words, we can teach our children how to treat others. You can let your children be natural leaders who are great, open-minded thinkers, or you can teach them to be non-thinking, zombie-like followers.
By talking to our children and listening to what they are thinking and feeling, we can learn a lot! What we cannot do is just sit back and do NOTHING. By avoiding issues that they are certainly going to hear about, we are allowing other people (like Trump) teach our children.
It is not only vital to talk to and teach our children about ignorance, bullying, and to reject intolerance, but we also have teach them how to defend people who have been targeted by hatred. We need to teach them it is okay to challenge "authority," in a sense, when the authority does not make sense or is dead wrong.
We can make something good come out of the 2016 elections. It starts with talking to our children.
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