How to Parent During an R-Rated Election

Juliette Kayyem is one of the nation’s leading experts in homeland security. She serves as a regular security analyst for CNN and is a former member of the National Commission on Terrorism. Kayyem also served as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, she serves as the Belfer Lecturer in International Security at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Kayyem lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husband and three children.

GirlwithFlag_400If this election season were given a movie rating, it would definitely be an R (and, sadly, sometimes even veering to the fringe of an X). We all have been exposed to an onslaught of language, visuals, and anger rarely seen in American politics. Republican candidate Donald Trump is even talking about the potential of a rigged election, challenging the very foundations of our democracy and the sense of stability we have known as a nation since our creation.

The campaign will end soon, but parenting never does. I never thought that a campaign and election season would be one of those “risks” that someone like me–a counterterrorism and homeland security expert–needed to talk about, but the anxiety I hear for ourselves and our children is real (and well-documented by therapists).

How best to put this whole process into perspective and manage your family’s safety? Here are some thoughts on talking to your kids about the election:

No matter who wins, America will move forward. Remind your children that they know the concept of winning (and losing). In this election, someone will win, someone will lose; the loser may not like it, may even claim the system is rigged, but America has had sore losers before. The loser has no standing to just show up at the White House and say, “I get to live here.” Focus your child’s energy on action-oriented progress after the election and on the need for everyone to come together after Nov. 9 to find common solutions for the issues your child may care about—like climate change, or gun control, or free candy.

Watch a free section of the online course Your Family Protected:

Don’t forget the down ballot. It may be hard for children to put the presidential election in perspective, but the intimacy and neighborhood feel of local elections can help them relate. Their own communities are where they live, go to school, play; chances are they may know someone running for a random local office. From local elections, to ballot questions, mid-term and off-term cycles, there is more to democracy than just voting for president. And our children need to understand that most of the changes that impact their day-to-day lives are the results of these local elections.

You are their first civics teacher. If you’re disgusted by the process, if you don’t engage, if you don’t vote, it will rub off on your kids. Children so often want solutions and only you can provide them. Too much screaming at the screen will not motivate your children to be engaged citizens. Take them to the voting booth so they can see you take affirmative steps as part of our democracy.

Save room for hope. When all is said and done, is there really any other country on earth you’d want to live in? Democracy, for all of its faults, is still the best thing humans have created to peacefully and productively coexist. If you have an immigrant story in your family, share it with your children, as they will understand how their ancestors came to this nation and how scary that must have been. Put their own anxiety in historical perspective: The assassination of Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War and the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle of WWII were also scary times for our democracy. But we continued forward, as we will on Nov. 9.

Buy or rent the online course, Your Family Protected, from Juliette Kayyem

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