Today, I saw seven patients - middle schoolers, high school students, and college students. Although they were all there for different anxiety problems, one theme ran through my day: anxiety about Election Day. Even my youngest patients have been voicing concerns for months about who is going to win the election and what the consequences of that outcome will be. These worries seemed particularly palpable today, with only two weeks to go until Election Day.
The New York Times published an interesting article about last week called, Talking to Your Therapist about Election Anxiety. It is a great read, but I felt it was important to write about some tips for kids and teens who might feel even more anxious than adults because they can't even vote!
-Acknowledge what our kids are feeling. Anxiety is all about the unknown and at this late date, the probable outcome of this election seems to depend on the source that one consults! Not knowing makes people feel uncomfortable. It is okay to say to kids, "Yup, it is hard to not know. It makes me feel uncomfortable and worried too."
-And, to the extent that we can, boss back that anxiety! Although we do not know who will win the election until Election Day, we can remind ourselves that our government is set up to prevent really bad things from happening. Kids have been expressing their worries in my office for months and I find that we can boss back many of these worries by saying, "Not gonna to happen!". The media has stirred up so many worries and kids need a reminder that there are checks and balances in place to prevent many bad outcomes.
-For some kids, DOING something in service of the electoral process makes them feel more empowered. One of the kids I met with today decided she would like to volunteer for her preferred candidate with her mom over the next few weeks. Many kids value going into the voting booth with their parents. Although they aren't casting a vote per se, they feel they have contributed by participating in the family vote.
-For other kids, tuning out is a better strategy. If reading the newspaper or watching the news is causing your child undue anxiety, it is okay to encourage him or her to stop for the next two weeks. If Election Day is going to be excruciating (especially for kids who have the day off of school), make a plan to keep your kids' brains busy with something else. Go to a museum. See a movie. Set up some playdates. Logging on to the computer every few minutes to check the polls is likely not a good strategy for making it through the day (for adults or kids!).
-Coach kids through the complex social aspects of this election season. Many of the kids who I work with have told me about conflicts among friends due to the candidate that their families are supporting. Some kids have told me that they have noticed an increase in disrespectful behavior toward girls and female teachers during this election season. Kids need our help with these situations. The best way to do this is to model appropriate discourse with our own friends, relatives, and work colleagues. We need to model to our kids how to respect people who hold different opinions than us.
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.