As Election Day approaches, Dr. Scott Poland answers questions for families on how to handle anxiety around politics.
How is election stress affecting not only parents and caregivers, but children?
There is considerable stress right now for parents and caregivers due to the pandemic, racial strife, and a contentious election. The result is many parents and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed and suffering from what we might term a low grade depression. One of the most significant factors for overall well-being is simply getting the proper amount of rest but that has been difficult in these recent months. I have responded to many traumatic situations that have affected children and one of the things that I think is very important is for children to be given permission for their own range of emotions and have opportunities to express those emotions if they wish through talking, writing, music, artwork or projects.
Children, especially younger ones take their cue from adults to see how upset to be about something. My thoughts are that younger children should generally not be included in lots of discussions about the election unless they asked to be. However, older students are likely to be very interested in understanding the election process and it may even be a part of their school assignments, for example, in a government class.
How can we approach political issues and other complex topics with our younger children?
I believe strongly with young children, we should provide opportunities for them to share their thoughts with us and it is often done the best when there is a shared activity such as playing a sport or baking a cake. The questions they ask should be answered developmentally in the way they understand. Adults are cautioned not to provide more information than the child is asking for at this particular time. Young children may have witnessed some of the election ads on television that have very strong messages that might be worrisome to them. In general it would be best for younger children not to view those election ads as many of them are filled with incorrect information provided in an overly dramatic manner.
One of the most significant factors to a child’s well-being is the modeling of coping and optimism from their parents and feeling like whatever is happening they are secure with their parents. This means that if we have strong feelings, reactions and worries related to the election we should share those with other adults in our life not with younger children. They should be assured that they will be cared for and safe at all times.
What is your advice for families that are grappling with political differences among friends and family?
There are very diverse opinions in families about the presidential election in particular. It is almost as if family members are existing in a different universe with regards to the information they receive and their belief about which candidate should be our president. I think all of us have a good sense of who we can have a reasonable, but spirited, discussion about politics with and what family members we cannot. If there are family members we cannot have a civil political conversation with then, it’s really as simple as, they’re in our family, and we love them, but do not agree with their political views and politics are simply not a subject we will be discussing with them.
What are some ways to help children deal with stress during these uncertain times?
All of us including children need self-care plans at this difficult time. Even small children are encouraged to draw out a self-care plan with pictures of themselves getting proper rest, eating healthy foods, getting exercise and doing nice things for others. One of the things that helps all of us deal with stress during difficult times is simply being that kind and compassionate person who does something nice for others. We should be grateful and acknowledge all the positive things that are going on in our life and not only focus on the stressors.
How can we prepare our kids for the results of the election?
It is not going to be helpful for us to spend valuable time with our families if we are moaning and complaining about the election results. The message to our children should be we are the United States of America and although many people appear to be far apart right now politically – America has always come together as a country. This is the time for parents and children to find those shared activities that they truly enjoy together and for parents to let children know they are cherished, loved and will be cared for and their parents will keep their world secure.
About the Author:
Dr. Scott Poland is a Licensed Psychologist, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Professor at the College of Psychology and the Director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Dr. Scott Poland is also the Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists and a part of the Safe and Sound Speakers Bureau.
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