19

My 6 year old daughter has a best friend at school who is Muslim and from a Muslim family. She is aware of the Presidential race, presumably from news. To my surprise, she has tearfully told me that she is afraid that if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, her Muslim friend will be forced to leave the country.

I'm shocked that this is a concern that a 6 year old girl is having, and I'm not sure how to respond.

Best I can tell, she got this idea from a misunderstanding of when Trump called for a travel ban on all Muslims to the US. Along with Trump's other anti-Muslim sentiments, it seems that this eventually morphed into a fear that her Muslim friend will be forced to leave the country if he becomes President.

As far as I can tell, she doesn't have a lot of understanding of what Trump's platform is, just a fear that Trump is targeting her best friend and others like her. Hearing that Trump currently has a lot of support for President (as the Republican frontrunner as of the New Hampshire primary) probably reinforced her fears that he might actually be elected.

Correcting her by saying that Trump actually called for a travel ban, not deportation, isn't going to allay the underlying fears (and I believe that her Muslim friend has family relatives outside the US, which would apply to). I tried to explain to her that Trump can't make such a unilateral move on his own but she doesn't seem convinced, what with the media and Trump himself acting like he can. It doesn't help that at her age, she doesn't have a good grasp on how many parts there are to the government.

We've stopped watching the nightly news to limit her exposure to Trump's campaign, but I know she is still talking about it with her friends at school. It's causing her a lot of stress and I'm not sure what to do. How can I allay my daughter's fears?

I'm posting this on behalf of a family friend, who is not familiar with Stack Exchange, but I used the term "my daughter" for simplicity.

  • 8
    Is her friend a US citizen? If so then you could explain about the First Amendment, and how it protects citizens from idiots like Trump. – Paul Johnson Feb 18 '16 at 17:32
  • 1
    @PaulJohnson I think that her Muslim friend is a US citizen, but her parents have a green card. Still, bringing up the First Amendment and how it protects citizens, especially if it refers to her friend, is a good idea. – Thunderforge Feb 18 '16 at 19:45
  • 5
    @anongoodnurse that is something I'd typically find surprising too, but when one of a group of friends is Muslim and there is strong rhetoric against Muslims being used, it's a lot more plausible that they would be paying closer (albeit possibly poorly informed) attention. Economic policy is boring, but somebody threatening your friend gets noticed. – Acire Feb 18 '16 at 23:44
  • 3
    I have a "5 and 3/4" year old and all he talks about with his friends is how bad girls smell. And which paw patrol character is their favorite. I can't even imagine a 6 yr old who can make the connection between a presidential candidate and possible immigration policies that may be enacted if elected. I know adults who aren't capable of connecting those dots... – Jax Feb 19 '16 at 0:19
  • 2
    Is the fear possibly coming straight from her friend? – kleineg Apr 11 '16 at 16:38
13

Children often have more awareness of the world than we give them credit for and it's important for us, as adults, to remember that the world can look very different from a child's perspective. Things that would seem illogical and wholly unrealistic to us, might seem inevitable to them. So you should try to spend some time to figure out exactly what she is frightened of and what it means.

By way of an example my daughter suddenly started acting out, last summer, out of the blue, in ways that were very uncharacteristic of her. When we finally got to the bottom of it it turned she was convinced she was going to jail.

A month or so previously she had witnessed someone getting arrested while she was out with her preschool and her teacher had explained this was because he had made "bad choices". Now my daughter is very aware she is small and still learning about things and therefore also sometimes made bad choices and isn't always totally in control of herself when this happened. Therefore, to her this meant that going to jail was a certainty and there was nothing she could do.

It took quite a bit to persuade her, and we had to try different approaches to finally convince her they don't send preschoolers to jail. Part of that process was not just understanding how she felt but also taking it with the same seriousness as she did.

It might be that when you daughter hears deportation she thinks it will happen straight away and if the president says so it will happen.

As adults we are aware there would be many things that would happen, even in the case of a travel ban -- legal challenges, diplomatic reactions, popular protest, lobbying from companies that rely on people traveling back and forth etc.

A challenge will be to explain this without adding to her fears. In your situation I think I would take of explaining that because bad things like this might happen there are things in place that can help stop it, even if the President wants to do it .Just like as parents we have a lot of control over their lives there are things in place to stop us doing bad things to them even if we wanted to.

Your friend has my sympathy. My daughter is four and this is a little beyond her though she certainly knows who the president is and has initiated several conversations to try and get a grasp on what he, and the government does. Its still a worry for me, though, as we are a dual national family (I'm am immigrant to the US from the UK), so I hate to think of what she might start thinking if she started picking up on it.

  • 1
    Thanks for adding this answer. The example you've given about your daughter is very helpful. I hadn't considered that a child might come to this conclusion. I am inclined to say exactly what the teacher said, about people making bad choices. I'll certainly be more aware of this in future. – user1751825 Feb 20 '16 at 2:46
11

I will try to make some suggestions which you may or may not find suitable:

  1. Talk to her about it. She obviously understands something about politics, explain her more about it, be ready to answer her questions.

  2. (If you are not a supporter of Trump, which we can't know) tell her that you personally do not wish him to become a president, promise her that you'll take her to the voting room (if legal/doable where you are) and that you'll vote against him. Explain her that this is what elections are about and this is how we speak our opinion.

  3. Show your support of their friendship.

  4. On the other hand, don't let your emotions to get involved in this too much, it would be very difficult to handle her fear if you feared the same thing.

  • I am not a supporter of Trump, and I think that taking her to the voting room, or having her parents do it, would definitely be a great way to help. – Thunderforge Feb 18 '16 at 15:45
  • Agreed, that gives her some feeling of agency and control back. (And probably a good idea even without a strong motivation to participate, but all the better when she has a cause to be passionate about!) – Acire Feb 18 '16 at 16:56
  • 2
    We have taken our kids with us to every election we could vote in, from municipal to EU level, and once they were old enough to read even showed them the forms. Now they have reached an age where we can discuss political claims and parties with them. So just for the suggestion of showing them hands on how democracy works this would already be worth +1. – Stephie Feb 18 '16 at 17:36
  • 1
    In no way would this help to alleviate her fears. Imagine "daddy I'm frightened the plane will crash" response "I don't want the plane to crash either". – user1751825 Feb 18 '16 at 22:07
  • 2
    This is not a general question about how to handle fears. This is a very specific question about a very specific fear. A fear based on a misunderstanding of presidential power in America. It is not helpful to make the child believe that her friend staying in America depends on the outcome of the election. It doesn't. He friend can stay in America regardless of who becomes president. – user1751825 Feb 18 '16 at 22:49
8
  1. Compliment her. This is a great achievement for a 6 year old and you should be proud. Let her know.
  2. Find out her source of knowledge. It's probably a good source, but you want to make sure that what you are telling her and what else she hears is consistent and not confusing and scary.
  3. Tell her the truth in concepts that she is familiar with. "Even adults sometimes say things just to get attention but that they don't really mean." "Donald Trump has said very strange things to get people to pay attention to him; I don't think most of these will happen, even if he is elected president."
  4. If you are friendly with the family you can ask them how they feel about this and how they communicate to their own children. The same approach may work for your daughter as well so she and her friend hear the same things.
  5. You probably have your own opinions about Trump, so make sure that whatever you are saying is consistent with what you think.
2

I think the best way to reduce her fear is to explain that what she fears cannot happen. You could read this excert from The Bill Of Rights together...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Explain that her friend is free to be a Muslim in America, and there is nothing that Trump, or anyone else can do to prevent her.

America is a great nation, founded on principals of freedom, tolerance, and diversity. It has survived bad presidents in the past, and can do so again.

It would be interesting to learn where her fear has come from. If she is frightened about this, then her friend is probably more so, which may mean her friends parents aren't aware of the limitations of presidential power in America.

The president is not free to implement whatever draconian laws he may want to. However there are certainly countries where a head of state does have this kind of power.

The best way for your daughter to overcome her fear might be to help her friend overcome hers.

  • 2
    This line of argument can be easily refuted (e.g. Internment of Japanese, local expulsion of Chinese). The truth is that laws are only as good as those who enforce them and that there is no perfect system of government. False hopes which ignore history will not instill faith in her father as she continues to grow and better understand our history. Even a great country is not without its great errors. – Sylas Seabrook Feb 20 '16 at 2:51
  • 1
    @JeremyMiller That's a very good point that I hadn't considered. This was a truly shameful part of our shared history. In Australia a very similar thing occurred during WW I & II – user1751825 Feb 20 '16 at 2:57
  • 1
    @JeremyMiller Actually one significant difference is that while you can declare war on a specific country, and potentially imprison, or deport foreign nationals from that country, you cannot declare war on a religion. Trump will not be able to deport people simply because of their religion, nor will he try. – user1751825 Nov 11 '16 at 0:25
0

To alleviate her fears, you can first explain to her that what people want and what they get is not the same. She knows that from her own experience. You can give her examples of things that you want and that you don't get. What Mr. Trump wants and what Mr. Trump gets are not the same thing.

You can explain to her that there are laws in place that will protect her friends. And that that these laws keep anyone, including the president of the USA, from just doing whatever he wants.

And last, you can tell her that as she gets older, she will be able to tell people what she thinks about matters, and eventually she will be old enough so that people listen to her. And then she needs to tell people how nasty it is to want to deport people who haven't done anything wrong.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.