Whew! This election season has been quite an emotional roller coaster. And if your household is anything like mine, your children have been more invested in this presidential election than any before it.
We live in a rural area, and many of my kids’ friends were very worried a Hillary Clinton win could result in more restrictions on gun owners’ rights. On the flip side, my 10-year-old son is in a Spanish immersion program. Many of his Hispanic friends have been very uneasy about this election, feeling a win for Donald Trump could mean scary things for their families. My fourth-grader felt pulled in both directions, and we had countless discussions about the Constitution, how legislation works and why voting is so important.
In his school, as in many across the country, there were many worried little minds in the days after the election. Children felt unsettled about what this new president would mean for their way of life. Many parents and teachers have been unsure how to address the situation, or whether to ignore it completely.
Then along came Katie Nagy, a first-grade teacher from North Haven, Connecticut. She wrote a message to her students the day after the 2016 election that they read aloud in class. She posted it to Facebook, where more than 37,000 people have shared it.
“Good morning, first-graders," it says. "As many of you have probably heard, we have a new president of our country. The president makes big decisions for our country. But YOU get to make big decisions as well. Choose to be kind to people. Choose to do the right thing. Choose to love the things that make us all different and special. You don’t have to be a grown-up to help make our country a better place. Love, Mrs. Nagy.”
Is that true? Can children make our country a better place?
And parents have a wonderful opportunity to reassure their kids and let them know they can make a difference.
Here are a few ideas:
Safety pin movement
Maybe you’ve noticed social media posts with pictures of people wearing safety pins. This movement started after Brexit, when the U.K. voted to leave the European Union. Many people saw this as an anti-immigration vote, and Britain saw a wave of anti-immigrant hate after the decision. People there started wearing safety pins as a way to show support for immigrants in the country, assuring that those people would be “safe” with anyone wearing a safety pin.
In our country after last week’s election, many people on both sides of the aisle showed intolerance. There have been reports of people harassing Muslim women wearing hijabs, and there is also an investigation into people assaulting a man while yelling that he voted for Trump. No matter whom people voted for, no matter what a person’s religion, race or gender, those wearing a safety pin want to show that all people will be safe around them. This is an easy discussion to have with your children, and they may just want to join the movement.
Pay it forward
Children can perform small acts of kindness for those around them. Ripple Kindness takes it to the next step by providing kindness cards. When kids do something nice for someone — or notice someone else doing something nice — they can hand the recipient one of these cards. The card tells that person to pay it forward. Let your children know that if they perform two acts of kindness in a day, and then the recipients go on to perform two acts of their own, in just 10 days, more than 1,000 acts of kindness go out into the world. That’s making a difference indeed.
Thank a hero
Your child may have just participated in this easy world-changing kindness for Veterans Day. But it doesn’t have to be an official holiday for kids to write a thank-you letter to those who protect our way of life. Operation Gratitude has helpful guidelines for how to write letters to our nation’s heroes. The organization may include the letters with care packages and will make sure they get to deployed troops, new recruits and veterans. The recipients always say the thank-you letters are their very favorite part of the Operation Gratitude care packages.
These are just a few simple ways children can learn and understand the needs of others and feel a sense of accomplishment. Yes, Mrs. Nagy, we believe in your words. You don’t have to be a grown-up to make the country and our world a better place.