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Talking to Children About the Election: A Message From the American Academy of Pediatrics

 

Karen Remley, MD, MBA, MPH, FAAP

November 11, 2016​

Following the results of this week's national election, AAP members in communities across the country have reached out to us. They've requested advice on how to speak to children and families about the results, how to help each other cope with disturbing rhetoric, and how to explain news reports of protests. They have sought reassurance that our mission remains steadfast to advance policies that protect all children. 

Even as we do everything we can as a national organization to represent children's needs to our newly elected leaders, it is so important that all children feel safe and protected in their day-to-day lives. As pediatricians and pediatric medical and surgical subspecialists, parents and grandparents, we can serve as a source of comfort and safety, reassuring children and supporting families.


​ ​"As we turn to our newly elected leaders​, the Academy will continue to advocate for and promote healthy children, support secure families, build strong communities and ensure that the United States is a leading nation for children."​
 

   

Here are some ways you can encourage parents to help their children:

TAKE CARE

  • Take care of yourself first. Children depend on the adults around them to be and feel safe and secure. If you are anxious or angry, children are likely to be more affected by your emotional state than by your words. Find someone you trust to help with your personal concerns.

TALK 

  • Explain—as simply and directly as possible—the results of the election and what they mean for who is in charge of the country. Start by asking what your child has already heard and what understanding he or she has reached. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns. The amount of information that will be helpful to a child depends on his or her age. For example, older children generally want and will benefit from more detailed information than younger children. Because every child is different, take cues from your own child as to how much information to provide.
  • Pay attention to what your children are viewing on television, the internet and social media, especially younger children. When children watch news on television, try to watch with them and use the opportunity to discuss what is being seen and how it makes you and your child feel.
  • Consider sharing your feelings about the election with your child. This is an opportunity for you to model how to react to the news, especially if you talked openly about the potential results as a family in the weeks leading up to the election. Be sure that you are able to express a positive or hopeful approach about the future and be reassuring.
  • Share with your child your own values and beliefs, including how you as a family treat others who are different or who may disagree with you. Kindness is important. Teach your child that if you disagree with someone, you can talk with them kindly about the way you feel.

LISTEN

  • Encourage your child to ask questions, and answer them directly. Question-and-answer exchanges help to ensure ongoing support as your child begins to understand the response to current events. Don't force the issue with your child. Instead, extend multiple invitations for discussion and then provide an increased physical and emotional presence as you wait for him or her to be ready to accept those invitations.

  • If your child has seen or experienced discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, either from other children or adults, encourage your child to discuss what he or she has experienced. Observing someone we care about being discriminated against, or experiencing discrimination ourselves, is scary, and reminds us that now more than ever it is important to reassure children that they deserve to feel and be safe in their schools, homes, and communities. 
  • Allow your child to express what he or she is feeling, including fear, anxiety, or anger. Listen as your child talks about it, again and again if necessary. Reassure your child of the steps that are being taken to keep him or her safe. Children should be encouraged to tell a trusted adult, such as a parent or a teacher, if they are bullied or feel threatened.

ACT

  • Engage in activities with your children that demonstrate your values. Volunteer together at an organization whose mission is dedicated to a cause you care about, give your child ideas about individual actions he or she can take every day to help fight prejudice, and take care to discuss issues of shared concern as a family.

"We will remain constant in our pursuit of health and well-being for all children.​"

As we turn to our newly elected leaders, the Academy will continue to advocate for and promote healthy children, support secure families, build strong communities and ensure that the United States is a leading nation for children. We will remain constant in our pursuit of health and well-being for all children. We will be steadfast in our approach of using evidence, policy and our passion for children in our dialogue and discussion.

Thank you for all you to do to care for children in your community, and thank you for your partnership as we work together to represent their needs to our new government.

​​Ab​out the ​​Author

 

Karen Remley, MD, MBA, MPH, FAAP, is the CEO/Executive Vice President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She earned her medical degree at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and completed her pediatrics residency at St. Louis Children's Hospital-Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Boarded in General Pediatrics and Pediatric Emergency Medicine, she has practiced in a small practice as well as complex academic centers. Dr. Remley received an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and an MPH at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Most recently, she was the chief medical director of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia, and from 2008 to 2012, she served as commissioner of health for the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is married to John Onufer, MD, and they have two daughters.​​