The 2016 presidential race is already shaping up as one of the strangest in history. Every day, an army of pundits dissects its bewildering dynamics. But none thus far have addressed the crisis facing millions of American parents: What to do when your young child brings up Donald Trump.
This is why we have prepared this easy-to-follow, six-step guide.
1. Confront the Inevitable
Face it, you cannot insulate your child from Donald Trump. Even if you could somehow convert your home into a no-Trump zone (by disabling every single electronic device, blacking out the windows, and hustling everyone into the root cellar) your kid would inevitably hear about Donald Trump at school, within the homes of less vigilant friends, or at your local casino.
For many, the natural impulse will be to distract your little one from this new preoccupation by dropping a large ceramic bowl on the floor, or yelling “Hey look—it’s Han Solo, and he just parked the Millennium Falcon right outside our house!”
Your kids will eventually pick up on this avoidance, which will only stoke their fascination with Donald Trump.
2. Don’t Panic
Young children react more to your attitude than your words. The first time your daughter one approaches you to ask about Donald Trump, simply take a few deep breaths and, if necessary, half a valium. Next, walk to the refrigerator and pretend to be looking for the fresh ginger root while you pour some wine into a coffee mug. Drink the wine and refill your mug. Finally, smile and ask the child what he or she has heard.
3. Listen Without Reacting
Your six-year-old may offer some pretty strange “facts” about Donald Trump, such as, If everyone votes for Donald Trump, the cafeteria at school will become an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet! Or, Jimmy says when Donald Trump is elected king all the ugly ladies will be executed!
Your first temptation will be repudiate these statements and launch into an semi-coherent lecture about Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Instead, nonchalantly tell your six-year-old that you will look into these claims. Then go into your room with your mug of wine and weep silently.
4. Don’t Vilify Donald Trump . . . Even If Your Child Supports Him
Many parents will encounter statements that reflect a tenor of fear and confusion, particularly in progressive neighborhoods. It’s entirely possible that, as you’re tucking in your precious tyke, she’ll whisper, “Mia’s dad says roving diesel mobs will roam our apocalyptic hellscape when Donald Trump is king, and that we need to buy a parcel of land with good sight lines and potable water. That’s why I’m saving up all my pennies!”
Pat your beloved child on the head. Then chuckle softly and say, “Mia’s dad has quite an imagination!”
Remember that your child has not yet learned to draw a clear line between fantasy and reality. She may not understand the difference between the monsters encountered in fairytales and the bloated, orange-faced creature bellowing polls numbers at her on the television. For this reason, it is vital that you let her express her fears and fantasies.
It may be that your six-year-old — who is after all struggling to negotiate his or her own power in the world — will identify with Donald Trump. Don’t be surprised to hear statements such as, “I like Donald Trump because he will kill all the Islams with his bare hands!” Or, “No, I will not eat kale. Donald Trump says kale is for losers who love having diarrhea.”
Your child is baiting you. Don’t take the bait.
5. Answer Questions Using Simple, Direct Language
Q: Does Donald Trump own all the money in the world?
Q: Why does Donald Trump keep kissing his daughter on the lips?
A: That is his wife.
Q: Zach’s mom says they are moving to Nova Scotia if Donald Trump is elected. Are we?
A: Your mother and I will probably argue about this and decide, in the end, not to.
Q: Can Donald Trump really build a wall around America?
A: Not by himself.
Q: Donald Trump said all Mexicans are rapists. What’s a rapist?
A: Ask your mother.
6. Offer Realism and Reassurance
Like any object of sudden and intense interest, your children will want to know whether Donald Trump is going to be a permanent figure in his or her life. This is entirely age appropriate. Your child may want to know things such as, “Will Donald Trump ever go away?” And, “What if you and dad die and Donald Trump wants to adopt me?”
This is called reality testing. Your job is to be honest, even about your own confusion. Steer clear of categorical statements, such as, “Donald Trump is just a bad dream. In a few months, we will all forget he ever existed.”
Instead, reassure your child that whether or not Donald Trump is elected president, or merely leverages his political campaign to grow his brand, you will always love and protect them. Then stare deeply into the eyes of your little one and remind them that nothing lasts forever, not even Donald Trump.
Steve Almond is the author, most recently, of “Against Football.”