What do we tell the kids?

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Artículo en Español
When President Trump was elected, many wondered if he would follow through on the statements he made during the campaign. After all, there is always some degree of distance between campaigning and actual governing.

However, based on a review of Trump’s recent executive orders, it is clear he intends to at least try to make good on some of the more incendiary campaign pledges. These include building a wall between the United States and Mexico and denying entry into the United States for immigrants and refugees from impoverished, war-ravaged and predominantly Muslim nations in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Our children are not blind to, nor insulated from, the stories and behaviors they see playing out across our nation — the volleys of accusations and insults, and the growing conflict and unrest escalating on the national stage in our country.

These images and confrontations can generate fear and uncertainty for our children. As the father of a 4-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, I also struggle with answering their startlingly perceptive and complex questions. Children have profound senses of equity and fairness. They also have both rational and irrational fears that are incredibly real to them. For teenagers with ready access to social media and its endless flow of both factual and contrived information, the images of marches, detainments at airports and protests across the nation are transforming their perceptions of the world they thought they knew, up to this point.

Throughout these next few years, it is likely that the conflicts and disagreements boiling in our nation will increasingly make their way into our schools, playgrounds and homes. Talking to children about all of this will not be easy, but it is our responsibility as parents, educators and community members to help our children understand their ever-widening world and to learn how to make their future better than what the adults have created in the present.

Lesson 1: Be nice to one another.

In the months leading up to the presidential election and every day since, the world has become meaner, more cynical and more us vs. them than possibly any other time in our lives. To confront this, we must be all the more gentle, caring, considerate and kind to others.

We can teach our children that the interactions they have at school, in the grocery store and at the neighborhood park can overflow with kindness and that most people in the world are nice to you, if you are nice to them.

Lesson 2: People can look and think differently than you, and that’s OK.

One neighbor may still have a Trump sign in the yard, while another sports a fresh “Not My President” bumper sticker. One family goes to church; another spends Sundays together at home. Some kids in the neighborhood have brown skin and come from Mexico; others are white and are from Connecticut.

While there are deep political, religious and racial divisions underlying people, our community is a place where everyone is valued, welcome and belongs. While my neighbor may not have voted the same way I did, our kids play together and we are there for them if they need us. Our similarities and shared dreams transcend our differences. We can teach our children to help each other, and be there for others despite our differences.

Tolerance means putting up with things you don’t necessarily agree with and it’s an underrated American value. To be clear, I am not saying we should teach our children to accept injustice or not question directives from authority. I am saying that people are free to think, believe and be different than we are, and that’s OK.

Lesson 3: The people in your life love you.

Our national rhetoric is filled with vitriol about who is right or wrong, who is truthful and who is lying and who belongs and who doesn’t. Despite this, we can both remind and show children that we love them deeply and that we would do anything to keep them safe. The children in our community should know that their parents, neighbors, teachers and friends are there for them and that we have our arms around each other. These times of conflict and stress are also a time to turn inward and focus on the love that is present in our homes and neighborhoods.

This piece is not intended to be sanctimonious or fluff. It is also not intended to dissuade anyone from standing up and resisting what they believe to be immoral or wrong. Rather, writing as a father and school leader, it is to point out that we (as the adults) have a tremendous responsibility to show our children that the world they will inherit still has immense goodness and worth. In the wisdom of Elie Wiesel, “Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.”