Beyond fear: Talking to my four-year-old about Donald Trump
This has been a dicey year to be a parent of young children. Along with many of you, I’ve been heartbroken, over and over again, at what I see and hear on the news: Americans with black and brown skin losing their lives for simply going about their lives, a generation of Syrian children enduring immense and ongoing trauma, and the dueling monologues that are passing for national discourse during this presidential election season.
I have tried, on one hand, to shield some of this from my children, and on the other, to do what I can to ensure that as my blonde, blue eyed, sweet-souled, privileged, White children grow up, they become part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.
Both of my children (my seven-year-old daughter and four-year-old son) have asked me repeatedly about Donald Trump. What to say? How to answer? How to talk about this man, who demonizes, polarizes, misogynizes, and marginalizes with abandon?
I want my daughter to be a little bit older when she learns how the world will objectify her and reduce her to her outer shell. I want my son to be a little bit older when he learns that the religion he finds such joy in (Judaism) is cause, in some circles, for hatred.
But here we are. I can’t avoid it. And in my heart, I know I shouldn’t. So, when the first debate came last week, my son and I sat together, watching and listening. And when he started asking about Trump, I tried to meet him where he was, and talk about it in a way that would make sense for him and allow him to start to make sense of it all.
Me: What he’s trying to do is separate us and make us fear each other.
My son: Why? He thinks we’re going to say “yay?” He thinks that?
Me: He thinks we’re going to be afraid of each other. That’s what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to make us afraid of each other.
My son: Afraid of him?
Me: And of everybody around us.
My son: Why?
Me: Are you afraid of me?
My son: No.
Me: I’m not afraid of you.
My son: Is he afraid of us?
Me: He’s trying to make us afraid of ourselves and our friends. Are you afraid of our friends?
My son: No.
Me: You know what? Me neither.
My son: I’m just afraid of him.
Me: I’m a little afraid of him too.
My son: Except, he’s not a bad guy.
Me: Right, because, what do you say? He’s not a bad guy, but what?
My son: He’s talking mean.
Me: He’s talking mean.
My son: He just talks mean.
Me: He has some ideas that are mean. And we’re not okay with that.
My son: And he thinks we like them?
Me: I think he does. I think he thinks some people like those ideas. How do you feel about those ideas?
My son: I’m going to tell him nobody likes it, okay?
My son: The next time we see… the first time we see Donald Trump.
Me: Right, because the next time will be the first time, right?
My son: When are we going to say “Hi” to Donald Trump?
Me: I don’t know. Would you like to go see him and tell him what you think?
My son: No, I’m going to tell him what I know.
Me: Okay, I think that’s a really good idea.
I wasn’t sure where the conversation would go when it started, but as we were talking, I was reminded of something his teacher said during Purim of last year (my son attends the Jewish preschool of which I am the director). She told me that the children in the class were playing a lot of games around the idea of “good guys” and “bad guys.” This coincided with Purim, the holiday that celebrates Queen Esther saving the Jewish people from the evil Haman, who tried to do away with them. The class talked a lot about how “there’s a little Haman in all of us.” We all say and do things sometimes that hurt others, and that doesn’t mean that we are evil.
My son really internalized this line of thinking, and while I might argue that there’s an awful lot of Haman in Donald Trump, I’m glad that my son views the world and its citizens in a loving way. We are all capable of bad, and we are all capable of good. As a parent, I always want to help my children cultivate their kinder sides. If I encourage them to demonize people, rather than to humanize them, then I am playing Trump’s game.
Jenny Levine-Smith is the director of Beth Ami Community Nursery School in Santa Rosa, California, and serves on the board of directors at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County. She has a BA from Brown University in Human Development and Education and a Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential from Sonoma State University. Jenny is a New York native who lives in Healdsburg, CA with her husband and two children.