Dr. Corinne Masur
Today I heard about a little girl who came home from school asking if Hillary Clinton is a baby killer.
Another little girl came home asking what it means to “grope” somebody.
These are shocking questions coming from children.
And we as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and members of the community also have questions: How do we answer the children’s questions? And how do we bear the pain of having to be asked?
What’s more, these questions don’t even include the other REALLY REALLY scary questions – like, “Is it true that our new president will send you back to Mexico/Guatemala/Pakistan/Iraq/Iran/Saudi Arabia, Mommy?” And “Who will take care of me then?”
The run up to the recent election and the election results themselves mean that A LOT of things are going to have to be talked about at home. Parents have a huge job for the next four to (dare I say it?) eight years.
1. Why would someone call Hillary Clinton a baby killer? And what did they really mean?
This involves having to talk about hate speech, bullying, name calling and, perhaps hardest of all with children, abortion.
2. What does “grope” mean? This involves having to talk about why a man who is running for president would be accused of groping someone – which means explaining what has sometimes been called “good touch/bad touch,” our rights to be in possession of our own bodies and to control what others may and may not do to them, AND the fact that people in positions of power sometimes do things that are wrong.
3. And then there is the issue of role models. What kind of a role model do we want in our President? And what kind will we have? What do we say about a President who we do not believe is a good role model for our children?
I will try to answer some of these questions today. But clearly, processing of our emotions will take weeks (months, years…) and it will be ongoing as we learn who this new president is. Similarly, answering children’s questions will be an ongoing process of confronting difficult topics and making them understandable, and of taking scary things and helping our children to feel safe even in their presence.
Children need answers to questions that are based on their age and stage of emotional development. Younger children require simpler answers and older children can often manage a bit of complexity.
So, is Hillary Clinton a baby killer? Or a nasty women? Or any of the other things she has been said to be over the past months?
We can say this: “No. Hillary is not a baby killer. Nor is she a nasty woman. Sometimes people get afraid of women who are powerful and they say mean things about them. This is wrong. Also, Hillary is not hurting babies and she never has. What was meant by this was something different. Hillary helped to makes laws that let women decide for themselves what to do when they get pregnant. Some people were mad at her for this and called her bad names. Even when we do not like what someone has done, we do not call them bad names. It is better to talk with them about what we don’t like about what they did.” That’s enough for a young child. For an older child the discussion can go on based on what they ask. What, for example, should you say if they ask “Well, what CAN a woman decide if she gets pregnant?” Depending on your own beliefs, the best thing to do is to answer as honestly and as simply as possible. For example, you can say, “Most of the time women are very very happy when they get pregnant and they cannot wait to have their baby. Other times a woman may be too sick or too poor to have a baby and it can be up to her whether or not to continue her pregnancy according to the kind of laws Hillary Clinton helped to make”.
And what about the question, “what is groping?”
You might say to a child, “Groping is when someone touches your body without your permission. You have the right to tell anyone who touches you this way to stop and you should always tell a grownup you trust if this happens to you.” That’s enough for a small child. But what about the older child who asks why Mr. Trump groped women? You can protect young children from this sort of information by limiting their viewing of TV news and keeping this material out of the conversations you have when the children are around. But you cannot protect school aged children. School aged children hear all sorts of things from their classmates and from older kids. They WILL hear about what is going on whether you like it or not. And with them it is necessary to have what Dan Savage has coined “The Trump Talk,” which is really just an expanded version of the one I suggested for younger children. This is a talk that every boy and every girl needs to have with a parent: “You have a right to your own body boundaries. No one should touch you in a way you don’t want them to and, if they do, you have the right to say no and to tell an adult about it. Moreover, you should not touch anyone in a way they do not want you to. And if they say no to you, you must stop”. And then comes the hard part: “There are people in this world who may want to touch you when you do not want them to or in ways you do not want them to. This is wrong and you must say no. Mr. Trump did this and the women to whom he did it were too scared to say no. That is because their moms and dads never had this talk with them. And it is because Mr. Trump is a powerful man and sometimes people are afraid to speak up to powerful people. But you must not be afraid of this. I will always support you when you are telling the truth”
And as to the last two questions – the hardest questions : “Am I safe if my parents are from another country and here illegally” or “are my friends safe if their parents are here from another country and are not citizens of the US?”
And what do we say when our President is not a person we consider to be a good role model for our children?
The answer to the hardest questions is the hardest answer to give to your child and it is the hardest answer for me to write here: I just don’t know.
Sometimes we don’t know the answer to a question our child asks. None of us know what will happen with immigration laws. And none of us know just yet how to talk to a child about the fact that we don’t want them to be like our president. Not knowing is hard for us, and it’s hard for our children because having us know the answers makes them feels secure. For the moment, the best we can do is to tell our children, when they ask the hard and unanswerable questions, that we are trying to figure these things out ourselves and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe while we’re working on finding the answers.
3 thoughts on “Answering Children’s Questions about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton”
Our children are definitely watching and listening!
This post gets right at some of the difficult questions parents are getting since the election. I especially like the last thought, that some of the questions will be best answered by, “I just don’t know.” But hopefully, despite not knowing we can keep the conversation going and try to hear our kids concerns that we can address.
Exactly! We as parents and caretakers must be able to admit that we do not know the answers to some of the questions our children ask while still being able to provide them with a sense that we are strong and able to protect and care for them.