The children were listening.
In an election deemed one of the nastiest in recent times, they heard how much some of their parents opposed Donald Trump’s bid for the White House, how they hated things he said about women and that he mocked his opponents, sometimes to their face.
And children heard Hillary Clinton refer to some of their parents as “deplorables,” a label Trump’s fans co-opted and wore as a badge of honor.
They heard first lady Michelle Obama say, after Trump’s infamous hot-mic comments about grabbing women’s genitals, “We’re telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country.”
And now, he’s going to be their president of the United States.
What do you tell your children now?
It’s a question that CNN analyst Van Jones asked aloud, passionately, on national TV as it became clear Tuesday night that Trump would win.
Parents copied his words on social media, wondering the same thing. Child psychologists and parenting experts and columnists rushed to put out statements with advice on how to talk to kids today.
“It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids, don’t be a bully,” Jones said, nearly in tears. “You tell your kids, don’t be a bigot. You tell your kids, do your homework and be prepared. Then you have this outcome, and you have people putting children to bed tonight. They’re afraid of breakfast. They’re afraid of – how do I explain this to my children?”
But for those who are struggling, child development expert Deborah Gilboa, a mother of four, suggested that parents begin with being honest about their disappointment in the election outcome. Don’t lie and tell them everything is “going to be OK” if you don’t believe that is true, she said.
“It’s healthy to, in an age-appropriate and gentle way, let your children know how you are affected by this news,” Gilboa said on the Today show.
Now is also not a time for joking about moving to Canada, she said. Explain why some people are saying that, she said, but make clear that you’re not “giving up on our country,” she said.
Clinical psychologist Stephanie O’Leary urges parents to remember that it is their words children will heed over the coming weeks.
“Even if you’re feeling defeated, do not underestimate how powerful you are when it comes to your child,” says O’Leary, who sent her two children to school Wednesday by telling them she expected them to behave appropriately and respect their friends and teachers.
“Regardless of which box you checked on election day, facing the reality of a Trump presidency means taking a firm stance on respect within your family and within your community,” O’Leary writes.
“As a parent, it will be more important than ever to step into the spotlight and demonstrate respectful behavior.
“If you are able to share your thoughts and feelings while choosing respectful words then you set the tone that disrespect is not tolerated. If and when your child hears disrespectful commentary, it will register with them and it will feel wrong. It will feel inappropriate. At the end of the day, that’s exactly what you want as a parent.”
Dan Kois’s two school-age daughters “spent the summer cheering with us for Hillary Clinton.” So the culture editor of Slate, who also co-hosts the website’s parenting podcast, “Mom and Dad Are Fighting,” faced some tough decisions.
When he had to tell them before a late bedtime on Tuesday that Clinton probably wouldn’t win, his 11-year-old daughter, Lyra, said, “That horrible misogynist better not win.”
He had to decide what to tell his daughters when he woke them up this morning and had to “break their hearts.”
“The natural inclination of a parent is to protect his kids. This is my instinct even as my children get old enough to begin to understand the world,” Kois writes. “What I want to tell them is that things will be fine, America is still the best, we’ll have a chance to elect a woman four years from now. I want to hide our ashen faces and give them the long historical view and say: It’s going to be OK. That would be hard, if still easier than being honest.”
Filmmaker and The Huffington Post contributor Ali Michael, who opposed Trump, said parents should tell their children they will honor the outcome of the election.
To “ease their minds,” remind them “that not everyone who voted for Donald Trump did so because they believe the bigoted things that he has said this year,” Michael writes.
“Many of them voted for him because they feel frustrated with the economy, they feel socially left behind, and they are exercising the one power they have. We need to challenge Trump and his supporters to differentiate between their fears and the bigotry catalyzed by those fears.”
And, Michael writes, teach school-age children how to be responsible members of a civic society.
“Teach them how to engage in discussion — not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of understanding and being understood,” Michael wrote.
“Students need to learn how to check facts, to weigh news sources, to question taken-for-granted assumptions, to see their own biases, to take feedback, to challenge one another. We need to teach students how to disagree — with love and respect.”
For girls who were excited by the prospect of having the first female president, Gilboa said, remind them that people fought from 1848 to 1920 to get women the right to vote in this country, so Clinton’s loss is just a delay.
“And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams,” Clinton said.