What To Say After the Election

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

What To Say After the Election

Last week, in a Georgia high school, a Muslim teacher found an anonymous note on her desk. The note instructed her to take off her headscarf—her hijab—because it isn’t allowed anymore. More than that, she was told to tie it around her neck and hang herself with it.

In Detroit, middle school students chanted “build that wall” in the cafeteria at their Latino classmates. And at a Veterans Day parade in Petaluma—Petaluma!—three men stood on a corner wearing Trump shirts and holding Confederate flags.

Whatever you think of the election, and whomever you voted for, this tidal wave of verbal and physical assaults against Muslims, people of color, LGBTs, women, and some Trump suipporters is terrifying—especially for children. Don’t think they don’t notice: children across the nation have heard the accusations and vicious words. Some children are imitating them; a friend of mine told me that her granddaughter was approached this week in a park by a little girl waving a stick, who said, “You’re a little brown girl.” Other children are silently afraid, in their homes and classrooms.

As Greg Popovich, coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs said last week, our newly elected President and his supporters have been saying things that most of us would ground our kids for life for saying. And the only antidote to the hatred and fear I can think of is if each one of us—parents, teachers, and bystanders—begins to speak up about respect and safety.

It’s important that you talk openly with your children about what is happening in our nation right now. You may think they’re too young, but if you don’t say anything, the only words they hear may be words you disagree with. This isn’t about politics, either. It’s about creating the kind of community—the kind of world—we want our children to inherit. Here are some tips for what you can do to help your children.

First, let your children know they’re safe. If you’re a teacher, have a class meeting and let your students know that regardless of their beliefs, background, or skin color, they are safe and welcome in your classroom. A school assembly would be even better. If you’re a parent, be clear about the power of words, and the sort of words that are unacceptable. Teach your children what respect and kindness look and sound like, and be sure you model these qualities yourself. Adults in power in this country may be acting like eighth-grade bullies, but that doesn’t mean your children should.

Next, create space for listening. Ask your child what he’s noticing and how he’s feeling. Listen to understand, not just to respond or argue. Your child may have very real fears or questions about what he’s hearing at school or on the playground. Don’t be in a hurry; sit quietly and listen to whatever your child needs to say. You can also share your own feelings and worries. Listening creates connection and is one of the most encouraging things you can do.

Ask your child what would help her feel better. Taking action, no matter how small, is empowering and encouraging. One family put a sign in their car window that said, “Hate never made America great.” Reach out to someone in need. Collect food or toys for people who could use them. Smile at people on the street. Even small gestures can make a big difference.

If your child is old enough, talk about how to intervene if she sees or hears something offensive. Research tells us that the bystanders are the ones who have the greatest power to stop bullying.

            It has been said that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. I have to believe that eventually the values we hold dear in this country will reassert themselves, and this wave of hatred will recede. Until then, each one of us needs to do whatever we can to create safety and respect. 

| Posted by cheryl | Sunday, November 13, 2016 |


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