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How parents are talking to their kids about the election

Nov 10, 2016

Little kids have a lot of questions about the election right now. And for parents, those conversations can be painful. Or comforting. Or sometimes, just hard to navigate.

Kids learning through the election that "there are dishonest people" 

Bill Pickens is an organic farmer from Dundee who used to be an engineer. He says he and his wife have four kids under the age of 8 right now. They lost their fifth child to SIDS last year, and now, they’re pregnant again.  

Pickens says they’ve been talking a lot with their 7 and 8-year-old, about the moral complexities of this election.

“Oh they have a lot of feelings about it, and it’s one of the things they’re learning about this, is there are dishonest people,” he says. “I didn’t go into the details with them about emails. But you can clearly say, ‘This person was lying about what they’re lying about,’ and they know that’s wrong.”

Pickens voted for Trump. But he says he was honest with his kids that he doesn’t think Trump is perfect, or is even his ideal candidate.

“My kids will ask, ‘Well, is this person Christian?’ And I can say to them, ‘Well, probably not!’” he laughs.

But he also tells them why he voted for Trump anyway.

“Some of it was to keep Hillary out. But at the same point, there were certain things that we said he had to stand for, like being pro-life. They can understand what abortion is, and they can understand what that means.”

A child worries his grandmother in Mexico will be behind "some stones or something" 

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, Maricela Rodriguez is picking her son up from elementary school. He’s blowing off some steam on the monkey bars, and Rodriguez says she has two older daughters too, ages 14 and 19.

The girls, especially, have been glued to the election coverage, she says.

“That was the first question they asked [Wednesday morning.] ‘Who’s the president?’” Rodriguez says. “They worry about what’s going to happen because of everything he said, you know, about different races. So they worry.”

She looks at her youngest on the playground. “Even he said one day, ‘He’s going to leave my Grandma out, because she’s in Mexico. They’re going to build some stones or something.’”

Rodriguez says she tells her kids not to worry, and says they can’t change anything at this point. 

The day after conversations: talking to kids before they go to school 

But another mom on the playground is less calm. Amber Bowman says the hardest thing about Wednesday morning was realizing she had to tell her son about the election results, before he went to school.  

“So I went into his room and woke him up and I told him, ‘I have something to tell you. The election is over.’ And he said, ‘Who won?’ And I said, ‘Donald Trump.’ And he said ‘How? But mom how?’” she says, her voice breaking.

“And he was quiet for a long time. Visibly upset, but quiet. And then he said ‘Well, he can be president of the rest of the country, but he can’t be the president of us!’ And I felt like I had done something right.”

Bowman says during the campaign, her kid didn’t like what Donald Trump was saying. 

“You know I taught him what’s right and wrong. And I know it’s scary for him, that someone who’s so wrong could be in charge. And that’s a really unsafe place for a kid who doesn’t have much power.”

Parents tell kids about their hopes for the future 

In Eaton Rapids, Mark McGee and his wife, Krysta, run a downtown café called Mark’s Place. Their 8-year-old son, Christian, wasn’t a big Hillary fan, but he was very vocal about his opposition to Donald Trump. Christian even told other kids that “Trump put his hands up a girl’s skirt, and I don’t like that,” his dad says.

So Wednesday morning, McGee says he had to talk to his son about his hopes for the future.

“He was really scared this morning,” McGee says in an email. “After I talked to him he was better. It’s crazy how into politics he is. When he was 4, he loved Obama. He's going to miss him.

“Here is what I said to my son: ‘Trump won, now we have to stand behind him and hope he makes good decisions. He is a businessman just like me. He took $1 million dollars and turned it in to a billion! Then lost it, then made a billion again! So things could be ok. The decision has been made by the people...and there is nothing we can do.’”  

McGee says he’s “both nervous and excited at the same time. This is a huge change for our government. Now we have a Republican government.  America was great to begin with. Let’s see what the next chapter will bring.”

And Bill Pickens, that farmer in Dundee? He thinks parents and people who are freaking out right now are overreacting. He says that’s how some people reacted when Obama won, and he says, nothing catastrophic actually happened.

But other parents are less sure, and trying to balance that uncertainty with the right level of honesty, and comfort, when they talk to their kids.