How to talk to your kids about #Brexit upset

Since last Friday when the results of the EU Referendum on Brexit were announced, the TV, radio, internet and adults seem to be talking about nothing else but Brexit. No matter which way your household voted it is highly likely that your children will be used to furrowed brows, heated discussions, maybe anger or elation, and possibly a fair bit of strong language.

“What’s going on??!!” wrote one friend of my 12 year old daughter’s on her iMessage thread last Friday morning. “Everyone’s going crazy :-(”

Upset & Relief signs Indeed. Many children, both young and teens, are confused, anxious and worried about what this all means. The older ones are angry that they never got to vote yet are all too aware that the older generation voted a different way from how they would have done. The younger ones are genuinely confused:

Mummy,” said my friend’s 8 year old son. “If we do get separated from Europe, will we feel it? Will it feel like an earthquake or something?”

So what do we do or say to allay their fears? I’m not going to suggest how you explain the nuances of the debate (that’s hard enough for adults to understand!).  Rather, I want to share some ideas on how we can affect the emotional temperature in your home.

It depends, of course, on what age your children are as to what they can understand and what is appropriate for them at this age but this article on Jump Mag! website explains the situation with beautiful simplicity.  And of course, First News, the newspaper for children (and adults tired of the cynical media;-)) always presents the news in a simple, balanced and easy to understand way.

Yet no matter what age your children there are some general principles that we can apply for all our households.

First, think carefully about our words and what we are saying around the children. I’m not thinking of just heated debates or strong language, I’m thinking of being careful about using words that deride or judge others for how they voted. Or how many times we’ve used the word ‘worrying’ in the last 24 hours.

This isn’t just about what we don’t say but also what we do say.  Remember to speak positively and with hope.  Hard to do when feeling angry or frustrated but as parents we need to be aware of this.  Being positive does not deny reality or possible futures, but it models the important life lesson of accepting certain facts and finding creative ways to move forward. This is especially relevant for the teenagers. Encourage them to channel their anger by doing something constructive about the issue. There are so many avenues to do this on the internet or in person these days.  I simply LOVE what 8 primary schools are doing in Bristol.  Watch this video:

For the older age group it is especially important to help them process conflict and differing opinions. Explaining the importance of respecting different opinions and views is best done by modelling, of course. Which brings us back to our words. But even when we’re careful, we can find them saying things we least expect. Like my daughter yesterday when I turned the radio on in the car on the school run. It was the usual story of “adults arguing about Brexit.”

I’m fed up with all this Brexit stuff,” she said. “We’ve had the vote, why can’t we just move on?”

Well, I’m afraid its only just the start as the result was Leave,” I explained. “There’s a lot of discussion to be had and things to be worked out.

Well who are these annoying people who voted Leave?!” she said impatiently, very uncharacteristically.  I knew that a couple of her friends’ parents had voted Leave.

Careful!” I cautioned, “we all have different opinions and we need to respect others, even if they’re not our own” I hastily added taken aback a little. My daughter is actually very respectful of other’s opinions and we had never used that phrase in our house. What she was displaying was a frustration with the whole intense saga.  But even so, she needed to realise that we need to be careful how we express our frustration. Same applies for most adults on social media this weekend!

Make time to sit down and ask them what they think this is about and what it means. Many of them may have totally mis-understood, like my friend’s son, or have extrapolated their fears too far: my daughter worries that it’ll affect her life negatively as an adult. Whilst we can’t see the future, and nothing is certain, we need to be assuring them of what is certain: our love for them.

I’m not suggesting we should cocoon our children away from reality. On the contrary, it’s good for them to see us get passionate about things, to see how how we handle frustration or annoyance or even elation, to see us mess up and make mistakes.  These are all healthy and normal.  We just need to be mindful of how much we show our annoyance, how much negativity they are exposed to from the media.  To be mindful of how our words and body language are affecting them and be available to help them process what is going on.

What is more, all these principles are deeply helpful for ourselves too.  Positive talk, thinking and creative problem-solving are things we as adults all need to do practice.

We are currently facing a leadership vacuum in the political sphere. But we can be strong leaders in our homes.  Let’s rise to the challenge.  And maybe think twice before turning on the TV or radio for yet another round of news or what my son calls  ‘Adults Always Arguing’!

by Siobhan O’Reilly Calthrop

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