Talking to Your Kids About Trump’s Victory

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader in California sends a photo of a discarded piñata of Donald Trump she saw yesterday:

Here’s “Trash Day on the Left Coast,” a photo from my morning dog walk. We also passed two women (separately, not together), crying.

Most of the Atlantic readers in this massive discussion thread are also distraught over Hillary Clinton’s loss. From the most up-voted comment, by Terri:

The United States of America has elected a man president that is more suited to being the dictator of a Banana Republic than the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. And those that elected him they knew exactly what they were doing. Give Trump credit. There was no deceit. His bigotry and misogyny were on full undeniable display as was his ignorance, his pettiness and his vindictiveness. This is what close to half of the electorate wants as its leader. There is no other conclusion.

Another reader, Kat, voted third party:

While I agree Trump’s unsavory aspects appeals to Alt-Right miscreants and undoubtedly won him some votes, they are a minuscule portion of the electorate compared to women. The fact Trump won despite his reckless and bigoted remarks, which undoubtedly cost him millions upon millions of votes, only shows the weakness of the global capitalist vision that is at the heart of the DNC.

People need living-wage jobs in a nation state that preferentially serves their interests as citizens. Many of the more rarified, post-Marxist leftists out there don’t seem to even believe in social democracy, or refuse to accept that social democracy requires social cohesion, labor protectionism, etc.

A lot of the hard core Critical Race Theory types may find themselves aligned going forward with libertarian capitalists of the NeverTrump variety. I mean what common ground do Bernouts like me have left with some of you except for a few social issues like reproductive choice?

I also asked some readers in this discussion thread how they’ve talked to their kids about Trump’s stunning victory. Jim via hello@:

The morning after the election, I spent part of breakfast reassuring my 7-year-old son, who is scared that because Donald Trump will be president, his friends will have to leave the country just because they are Mexican. In our carpool, I needed to do the same for two girls, 9 and 8, who are afraid their father will likewise have to leave because he is Latino.

That day, I chaperoned my son’s second-grade class on a field trip. On the bus ride to our destination, a little boy took great pains to reassure me that even though his family is from Iran, he was born in America and that they love America, so they do not have to leave.

At lunch, once the structure of the museum tour was done, a little Latina girl ran up to one of the other chaperones and said, “Donald Trump is president now! What will happen to us?” I spoke, briefly, with my son’s teacher. She believed the children’s anxiety would pass, given that our school community is middle and upper-middle class, with few undocumented students. Then she grew a little grim, and said, “But they’re probably having a much different conversation at my old school.”

Yesterday broke my heart in a way election day did not. Our children pay attention. They hear what the grownups have to say. In ways small and large, parents’ anxieties and angers frighten children. We cannot shelter them from the rhetoric of men and women like Donald Trump, no matter how we may try.

Speaking of fear and anxiety on behalf of Hispanic friends, here’s a school teacher discussing the reactions of his students and his own kid:

So many of my friends with daughters—who so jubilantly wore white and cast a vote yesterday with selfies of themselves and their daughters’ smiling faces—are just crushed. I sent my own 11-year-old daughter to bed at 9:00 p.m. on election night, and it was the first question she asked in the morning. She made a beeline to the laptop to access the New York Times electoral map and zeroed in our our state to look at county results. She said, “Well, at least he’s not king. He can’t just go around making decisions.” She’s very sensible and practical in her outlook.

I dropped her off at her friend’s place to carpool, and then continued on to the high school. I am in Clatsop County, Oregon. Twenty percent of our school demographic is Latino. I have students who are afraid of being deported. The kids are as stunned as the staff, even the pro-Trump kids. I have heard only one pro-Trump student yell, “Build the wall!” during passing period and that (to my ears) is a first after a year of this campaign.

One of my students, just old enough to vote in the election yesterday, was berated in another of his classes yesterday (by the teacher) for his vote for Trump. He was called sexist and racist. He voted for Trump because he doesn’t see how a woman could lead the military.

My students want to know who I voted for, and I have always been closed about that. But this is a strange election, and based on my behavior on Facebook last night, and the interconnectedness of me with their parents on Facebook, they could figure it out if they wanted to.

I want to emphasize the rule of law, not riots and militarism. But I also worry about complacency, and I am—as a biology teacher—deeply worried about the ability of our planet to sustain life as we like it.

Here’s another school teacher, in Arizona:

I teach freshmen and AP Literature students at a mostly-Hispanic (immigrant and native-born) low-income high school in the Phoenix area. Most of my freshmen were either oblivious or being silly about the whole election. But my seniors … they are scared. They wanted to talk about Trump and what this all means. I told them that I understood their fears and allowed them to vent them a bit.

One of my students asked me “Mrs. N … what do we do now?” I thought for a moment: How do I put them at ease when I, too, and struggling internally with this terrifying idea of a Trump presidency and what that all entails for myself, my family, and my students. So I said:

We have been through so much in our 240 years: a horrifying civil war, two world wars, a great depression, a contentious civil rights movement, terror attacks, a great recession … and each time these horrible things have happened, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and have kept going. We came together as a country for the betterment of all. And that is what we need to do now: focus not on the negative, but how we can be a positive force for change in this world, in our country, in our state, and in our city. We have so much potential to do good, so we should not wait until something awful happens to tap that potential. Make the choice to lead positive lives of joy, of service, of love, and of peace. THAT is what we need to do now.

And fears among children aren’t limited to Hispanics, as this reader can attest:

I had a couple different Muslim kids in my class ask me today why America hated them. One told me he was afraid that people would attack his family. These are kids who were already fleeing violence and persecution when their families came here to America. It broke my damn heart. All I could tell them was that this was their country too, and that nobody could take that away from them.

This next reader, Jill, explains how Trump has made her parenting more challenging:

I had a talk with my daughter after she saw the commercials with video clips of Trump doing his thing. She was a laughing at his palsy routine, and I had to explain why it wasn’t funny.

As to his treatment of women, I can only point my daughter to her father and tell her that not all men are good role models like he is. Guys like Trump are a dying breed. It’s just that I thought that were were only 10 or so years aways from them going quietly off to the nursing home and now I see that there is a fresh batch right behind him. And they are going to be bolder now than ever before.

Another reader had a better experience talking with his kids:

We had a family conversation about this Monday night and again this morning. Our kids are in 2nd and 4th grade, and on Monday the student council had an election in the school library. My daughter voted Hillary. My son asked the librarian how to vote for her candidate—Gary Johnson, the “Librarian” candidate. There were no third party options, so he also ended up voting Hillary.

Basically my kids internalized my frustration with Trump, the Republican debates (which had me yelling at the TV screen) and my head-shaking disbelief at this entire election cycle. All they knew is that their mom and dad consider Trump a national embarrassment. So naturally they voted against him and were concerned to find out he won.

So then we talk about our system of government is greater than any one man. Checks and balances. And really at the end of the day, the POTUS doesn’t effect their day-to-day lives at all. Their lives aren’t determined by Trump or any politician or any policy. They know their life and happiness is determined by how they treat others and their own efforts. So they are good to go.

For those kids who aren’t, The Onion has some tips:

  • Children often understand more than we think, so start off by asking them if they have any idea what the fuck is happening.
  • Put their mind at ease by confirming that the results of this election aren’t the end of the world in any strictly literal sense.
  • Don’t be afraid to openly share your wine with them.

This reader has more sober advice:

I’m telling my kids this isn’t the first time our liberties have been challenged. I’m telling them to pick themselves up and get back to work. Meanwhile, try to give some thought to how you can take your citizenship more seriously and influence the people around you to do so as well. I’ll be doing the same thing, and after we process all this for a few days, let’s touch base about our findings.

Here’s one more reader for now, presumably addressing the media as a whole:

Have you learned anything? Your polls were wrong; you have no business in the field of prophecy and foretelling. Why not return to good journalism: listen, watch, report, examine, put forward points of view, measure, suggest. Write well, teach with respect, and converse with your readers. is always open to converse. Update from a reader, Lacrecia:

The morning of the results I woke my 9-year-old daughter up after a sleepless night to share with her the dreaded news that Donald J. Trump had been elected our new President. Even in her sleepiness, she began to cry. I asked her why and she said she was scared. I assured her that her Dad and I weren’t going to let anything happen to her and that in this moment we need to pray for Donald Trump that he can be the leader our country needs him to be.

I also told her, “You know Donald Trump is not a real Republican. He just became a Republican like 10 years ago.” Perhaps his Democratic roots will keep him moderate. I reminded her that Donald Trump is one player in three branches of government and this is why we have checks and balances and now we have to trust that those will not allow for a complete disruption of our society.