Post-Trumpatic Stress: Let's Take Care of the Kids

My email in-box and voicemail were filled today with messages from parents seeking advice about what to say to their kids in the wake of this election. Teachers across the country are wondering the same thing. What do we say to kids? How can we help them get through this difficult period of adjustment?

About half the people in the US are elated by the news that Donald Trump has been elected 45th President of the United States. The other half of our nation is in a state of shock and deep despair.
I have a firm belief that in time, depending on the actions of our new president, most adults on both side of the equation can get through this massive re-adjustment of expectations, hopes and beliefs. However, I worry a lot about our children and grandchildren. Many kids woke up in happy households this morning, sharing in the rejoicing of their parents who supported President-Elect Donald Trump. They may have a sense of pride, and even a new-found self-respect, as they bask in the joy that comes from victory.

However, many children woke up in very sad homes this morning, hearing the news of the defeat of their candidate Hillary Clinton, and along with it, their shared dreams and hopes for a better future. Children cried this morning. Some worried whether they would be safe, or if the country would be going to war, of if they were going to be deported, or shunned, or attacked, or ridiculed by their classmates who supported the winner of one of the most contentious presidential campaigns in our country's history.

As a child psychologist, and as a father and grandfather, I implore you to take care of the kids today and in the weeks to come. Encourage the winners to be sympathetic and empathic, even in the height of their joy. Be watchful of the children whose families' dreams were dashed by the election results. They may be suffering from what I'm calling "Post-Trumpatic Stress Syndrome." You won't find this diagnosis in any psychiatry manual, but you can recognize it when you see kids tearing up in class for no apparent reason, or looking tired because they can't sleep at night, or getting irritable, or refusing to do an assignment or homework because their sadness and fear are shutting down their executive functions. You may not even see some of these kids in school, because they may be staying home to remain in the protective care of their parents, or because they don't want to leave a depressed, weeping parent at home alone.

The anxious, worried human brain likes to be in balance, but it may take some time for things to settle back into some kind of normalcy. Let's help the kids make it through this predictably tough time by comforting them with love and understanding, and instilling in them a renewed hope for a good, safe future in a country that prides itself on healing from its wounds and moving on to better times. Our nation's kids--children of Republicans and Democrats alike-- have taken quite an emotional hit in the months leading up to this election. Now they need us to help them get back into the rhythm of a normal life. Remember, it is the kids who are our future. Let's take care of them.