The world is a scary place to be a child even without an American presidential election ratcheting up the fear levels. As we go about our lives over the next few days, here are some things we adults can do to make our children be less afraid:
1. Start by acknowledging we all have a part in how the children feel. It isn't just parents and teachers who make them feel safe. Even strangers speaking to each other in calm tones make children feel safer than when they speak in angry ones---even when it involves adult topics like the election.
2. Change the way we talk about the candidates. While many of us chastise the media for their harsh tones, some of us are just as harsh in our private conversations or debates. The worst-case scenarios they hear from us will make them even more afraid because we're the person(s) they trust to know what's scary and what isn't scary. When we say the country will fall apart if our candidate loses, our children take that literally. What makes this even worse for the children is that many adults really believe this the-sky-is-falling-rhetoric and our children grow even more afraid if they hear the important adults in their lives sounding really afraid.
3. Turn off the news; or at least manage what our children see and hear of it. Nearly every media outlet has a favorite candidate, and they tend to demonize the other candidate with worst-case scenarios. These images make a scary world even scarier to children.
4. Stop with the angry diatribes. Children tend to think everything in their lives is their fault, and when they hear anger---even the anger of adults debating around them--their little hearts start beating and their minds wonder if they've done something wrong to cause this anger.
5. Help the kids pay attention to things other than the election by focusing on managing what they're doing and what they're seeing and hearing more closely over the next week; actively giving them options that keep them positively occupied instead of leaving them large blocks of time to hear and ruminate over media outputs.
6. Christians should be steeped in prayer, asking the Father to calm their fears so they may calm the children's fears. We can start by reassuring ourselves that God is our source of hope and comfort regardless of who leads us; and by saying this to our children often over the next few days. For some of us, this will require admitting to our children that we got carried away and said some hateful, hurtful or scary things, and asking them to forgive us. This humbling of ourselves before our children has a remarkably cathartic effect on them, and will go far to make them feel more safe. It will also have a similar effect on people who don't know Jesus, but are looking for Christians to be less afraid than the rest of the world because we say our hope is in Jesus.
7. Stop predicting bad things will happen because of the election results. It makes it feel like we're out of control, and it also makes it feel like God is out of control. Even if you really believe your predictions are true, our children don't need to live with the fear of what we adults think is coming. Besides, God offers us a chance to head off our worst-case scenarios in II Chronicles 7:14, where He gives Christians a four-step process for getting Him involved in fixing what ails our country and the world. Note to self and all other believers: The four parts of God's action plan have nothing to do with who's in charge: He makes it abundantly clear that it's His people who make or break a nation by being humble, prayerful, seeking His presence and making changes in our own sinful lives.
8. Be extra reassuring to the children, and extra attentive to the spiritual disciplines in our lives in front of them over the next few days. They will notice, and may start to develop the same habits for themselves. This is a terrific habit to instill in them: When the world is most afraid, teach them to turn even more of their attention to God. Remember that God promises us in Isaiah 55:11 that any time we spend in the Word of God will accomplish God's purpose in our lives, even if it doesn't seem like it means much at the time.
9. Finally, start to pray for the candidate who wins the elections in our areas. Be sure the children see and hear us doing this. Even if we're not really feeling the prayers we're praying, the Holy Spirit will take it from there. It's nearly impossible not to have a heart-change about somebody we're praying for on a regular, honest basis.
Jesus made clear during His time on Earth just how much He loved children, and Scripture elsewhere makes it clear as well. We honor God when we focus on caring for children, and our neighbor's children. Ask God today to grant our children His assurance, and then ask Him to help us reinforce that assurance by the way we live our lives around them.