The election is tomorrow and anxiety is at an all-time high, so high that the media has coined a new term: “election anxiety”. I do not wish to engage in heated political dialogue. This post is not for or against a particular candidate. I have struggled with whether or not to even publish it, but I have a child who is worried and I know I am not alone. Today, I’d like to talk about election anxiety as it relates to parenting young children.
Political Panic: Election Anxiety and Sensitive Kids
Sensitive kids and the media:
I was in 6th grade when the Gulf War started.
At that age, I was terrified. The news was on almost 24/7 and it was just too much for me. I couldn’t bear the footage, the bombings, the dialogue. I’d hide in my room with a good book, but the TV was just outside my door, infiltrating my safe space.
I covered my ears, put a pillow over my head, blared my Walkman while reading, anything to drown it out.
Despite my best efforts, the news was impossible to ignore.
It gave me nightmares.
And, I couldn’t help but think: Why so much hate? Why so much hurt? Why haven’t we evolved past this?
I was twelve years old. I didn’t tell anyone how scared I was; I kept it bottled up inside.
Surprise! Sensitive kids grow up to have sensitive children.
Over the summer, my oldest’s anxiety spiked. We were on vacation and, as is often the case with anxiety, I couldn’t figure out why it was happening.
Two weeks later, it all poured out.
He had been at art class, working on a painting. The table was covered in newspaper and he had unintentionally read an article about how one of the political candidates could start World War III.*
*Please note these fear-inducing WWIII articles have been written about both candidates. This post is about parenting through the election and not about a particular candidate.
He had been stressing over the possibility of WWIII for two weeks! TWO WHOLE WEEKS!
The poor little guy!
He was terrified and with good reason. His mind housed thoughts that his emotions could not fully process. The article he read was fear-inducing, made more complicated by the fact that he is an asynchronous little fellow who, at 8-years-old, reads well beyond his years.
Do you know what he told me? He told me that he didn’t understand why there was so much hate in the world. He didn’t understand why we haven’t evolved past this.
(That apple does not fall far, does it?)
Navigating tomorrow’s election, and related election anxiety, with your sensitive child
If your child is experiencing election anxiety, here are some strategies that may help:
- Validate your child’s feelings. The last thing you want to do is to ignore it or to keep it all bottled up. Talk about those feelings. It feels better when you get those fears out in the open.
- Emphasize that sensitivity is a strength. Tell your sensitive kiddo that sensitivity is a strength and should never be viewed as a weakness.
- Focus on the good. Remind your children that we are fortunate to live in a country where we can vote and speak freely.
- Turn off the TV and radio. Limiting media exposure can be healthy for all children, but especially for those who are highly sensitive. Turn the television off when your children are home. Choose commercial-free options while driving. You cannot shield your child from everything, but you can work to decrease anxiety triggers, at least until the election dust settles.
- If your child has seen something upsetting in the media, talk about it at his or her developmental level. I like to remind my children that political campaigns are a form of advertising and that the media works very hard to create stories. Don’t automatically believe everything you read or hear. It is important to do your own research.
- Spread kindness. The media leads us to believe that the world is filled with hate. Yes, this election has been especially heated, with hateful words, but that doesn’t reflect most people. Be the good and focus on spreading kindness as a family. You will all feel better for making an impact on your corner of the earth. If you are looking for ideas, here is a great post from Doing Good Together.
- If your child is especially worried about a candidate, talk about checks and balances. In our homeschool, it has been helpful to focus on the political process.Yes, there is one President but there is also a separation of powers.
- Get out there and vote. I am going to take my sensitive soul with me. I think it will help him to witness the process and feel a sense of control over the outcome, however small.
- Practice mindfulness and other forms of self-care. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for adults and children. By integrating mindfulness into your family routine, your children will learn important coping and life skills.
- Hug. Hugs are magical in these scary moments, especially when there are no words.
- Pick a cause and take action. In times of stress, it can feel as if you have no control. If your child is feeling this way, pick a cause and take action. Is your daughter an animal lover? Volunteer at the local animal shelter. Is your son worried about troops overseas? Send care packages and be a pen pal! Small kindnesses and actions can create big ripples and restore a sense of control. Here are some ideas.
- Find a diversion. Humor, nature, a good book, or playing a board game are all strategies to help children (and parents!) take their mind off of worries for a little while.
If you’d like to read more about highly sensitive people (and little ones), here are some excellent choices:
- The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron
If you are a highly sensitive person like myself, you will wholeheartedly appreciate this book. Do yourself a favor and read it. It will be good for your soul.
- The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them by Elaine Aron
That proverbial apple does not fall far from its tree. If you are parenting a highly sensitive child, this book is for you.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
If you grew up being told that you were too quiet, this is the book for you. It’s fascinating to think about introversion and extroversion as it relates to the world, careers, family, and education. Be sure to check out Susan Cain’s website, Quiet Revolution.
- Quiet Kids: Helping Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World by Christine Fonseca
This is a wonderful book for those raising introverted children in this extroverted world.
Do you have a sensitive child? Are you parenting a worrier?
Here are some related posts:
Do you want to study the election and keep it G-rated?
Here are some posts that might help:
Now, it’s your turn. Tell me: How are you navigating tomorrow’s election with your sensitive kid? Are your children battling election anxiety, too? What has helped? Share here… and please keep it kind!
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram