Connecticut parents, teachers spent Wednesday trying to explain Trump win to kids

New London — Students at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School woke up Wednesday to news of an impending Trump presidency, got on the bus to school and walked right into Baylee Howard’s classroom.

Howard, a New London native who teaches eighth-grade social studies at Bennie Dover, asked them to write down their feelings.

“The most-repeated words of the day were words like ‘afraid,’ ‘fearful,’ worried,’ ‘anxious,’” Howard said.

Even students whose parents supported the president-elect, she said, wrote down that they were “surprised and shocked.” Howard said she does the same classroom exercise after every election.

Kids across the state and country are processing the upending of conventional wisdom in American politics just as much as adults are, Karen Ethier-Waring, the senior director of clinical services at the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, said Wednesday.

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” Ethier-Waring said. “Kids know.”

Ethier-Waring said she recommends to parents and those with anxious kids to talk to their kids about the election, if they bring it up, in positive terms.

“I think the messages to kids is that we’re all safe, and we’re OK,” she said. “The grown-ups are going to have to work really hard to talk to each other ... and even though they didn’t agree on things, now we have to support the president.”

But it’s not necessary for adults to sugar-coat the results if they’re worried about the next four years themselves, she said.

“Kids won’t buy it, and that will make them more anxious,” she said. “Give a positive message without minimizing the concerns ... I think rather than deny that (stress), to say, ‘yeah, this is a surprise to us. We’re all having a lot of big feelings. But also we’re going to work hard to make sure things go well.’”

Howard talked to her students Wednesday — again, after months of discussing the democratic process this school year — about how the country gets a new president.

Saying their feelings out loud and reviewing the steps for transitioning to a new president seemed to help, Howard said.

"Once we processed (that) this is how an election works ... I think it was a much more calm feeling after they exited the classroom,” she said.

But kids — especially the children of immigrants — are not immune to feeling stressed about Trump no matter how much they know.

Howard said a few Bennie Dover students have been crying, asking if their families will be deported and asking if the next president hates Hispanic people since at least last week.

Tuesday’s upset will affect kids in different ways, Ethier-Waring said. And adults are likely taking it harder than kids.

Adam Rosenberg, the principal at Norwich’s Veterans Memorial School, said he had heard no reports of students upset by the election there, though he said elementary-age students might be too young to understand the issues at play.

Rosenberg said his 10-year-old daughter asked at breakfast Wednesday if Hillary Clinton had won the election, as most projected her to. When she learned Clinton lost, she was briefly upset, then went about her morning.

“My 20-year-old, on the other hand, was blowing up my phone,” he said.

There also may be lessons for kids and teenagers for whom Trump’s election was the desired outcome, Ethier-Waring said.

“When there’s an election or a sports game when someone comes out a victor, we need to be gracious,” she advised people to tell kids. “I think it’s really the same message — we get to express all our feelings and opinions — and then we have to work together.”

Colleen Rix, a Montville Board of Education member who supported Trump in the election, said her young daughter told her a schoolmate declared they couldn’t be friends anymore after Tuesday.

Rix told her daughter, “your friend needs a hug.”

She said she’s told her kids that as emotional as the election became, “He won and she lost, but we’re still moving forward as a country. Your friends are still going to be your friends.”

m.shanahan@theday.com

Editor's Note: This story has been edited to clarify that Baylee Howard asks her students about their feelings after all elections, and that a few Bennie Dover students were crying.

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