After the Election

Posted on November 10, 2016 by Amanda Witman

When the votes are in, the ballots have been counted, the election has been won, and someone new is now poised to begin leading the country, it can bring up questions for children of all ages. There is often a lot of excitement and buzz leading up to a big election, both in the media and in conversations with friends and neighbors. Election Day can bring people together to watch election coverage, root for candidates, and wait with anticipation for the results to be announced. But once the election winners are determined, what happens next? Helping children understand our governmental system and some of the changes that occur regularly within the government can help children process what they hear and see during and after an election.

Photo Credit: Adam Hall (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Adam Hall
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Adults often express very strong feelings about the election cycle and its outcome. Unfortunately, this can be frightening or stressful for children of all ages. Ask your child open questions about their observations and reactions to the things they are seeing and hearing. Be open to their questions as well.
Some wonder how their lives will change when the country has a new leader. You can reassure your child that while those who work in government are busy and have a big job to do, your child’s day-to-day life is not likely to change substantially and suddenly after an election. They will wake up the next morning and follow the rhythm of their day, just like always.
The U.S. presidential election cycle is a big deal, not just because it is how Americans elect their nation’s leader, but also because the right of citizens to participate in choosing their leader is taken for granted – and protected by law. You might discuss how they, too, will have the privilege of voting when they are grown, and that means gathering information about the candidates in advance, as they may have seen adults in their life doing recently. If your children have an opinion about who they would vote for if they could, encourage them to think critically by asking them to explain the thought process that led them to that choice.
Photo Credit: Sweeney Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Sweeney Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Remind your child that the excitement and media coverage will die down as those who have been newly elected to office prepare to begin working in those positions. Many things happen between Election Day and Inauguration Day. The new president begins appointing staff members, who must absorb a lot of important information about running the country. The current president’s family prepares to moves out of the White House while the new president’s family gets ready to move in. Many people work hard to set things up to make sure those transitions go smoothly.
To a child, a president-elect may seem like a powerful superhero, and a four-year or eight-year presidential term may feel like a lifetime in the context of their short lives. They may worry about the new president being overly powerful. Even very perceptive children may not realize that our governmental system is intentionally set up to allow for a shift in personnel on a regular schedule to ensure that no one person becomes too powerful. The U.S. Constitution calls for governmental power to be spread out over three governmental branches, which means elected representatives share the power (and the work).
It’s important for children to know that there are many different elected positions in government at the national, state, and local levels. The president doesn’t do everything! Lots of people work together to get the work of the country done. In general, in the United States, any adult citizen who would like to participate in the government by running for office can do so. And everyone over the age of 18 is entitled to help choose these many representatives by voting. Many people share the job of safeguarding the well-being of the country and its citizens. You might interview friends and neighbors who are involved in local, state, or federal government and ask them about their experiences.
Photo Credit: Nevada Wolfe (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Nevada Wolfe
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Help your child make a plan for some way they can get involved in addressing things they think could be improved in their neighborhood, town, or wider world. Small things add up to a bigger whole, especially when many people share the same goals. Talk about what kind of world your family wants to live in and what you could do together to help make and keep it that way. It is never too early to encourage developmentally appropriate ways to be an active, responsible citizen. Taking action can be empowering and helps children feel they are a meaningful part of the world around them.
The buzz around a big election can be unsettling for some children. By helping your child develop a deeper understanding of the basics of the U.S. governmental system, you give him or her tools to help put the election results into context and carry on with the important work of childhood.

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