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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a speech during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a speech during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Leah McLaren: How to talk to your children about Donald Trump Add to ...

“How am I going to explain this to my kids?”

This was the question echoing in the annals of middle class Western social media yesterday as politically-minded parents the world over awoke to the news of a Trump victory. Our house was no exception.

“We’d better tell him before he goes to school,” my husband, Rob, said as I came downstairs. We both looked at James, our four-year-old, who was on the sofa, naked and wrapped in a sheepskin, watching his 86th Team Umizoomi episode since waking up. “Listen, mate, we need to tell you something,” Rob began.

Read more: Trump’s victory offers teachers a challenge and an opportunity

“Mmm hmm?” said James, not tearing his eyes away from the screen.

“A bad and crazy man has been elected the leader of the free world,” Rob continued.

James took this in then shrugged. “Okay Daddy, let’s kill him,” he said.

Rob replied that that wasn’t an option. I looked down at the baby in my arms, just eight weeks old, and felt sorry for him for being born in the same year Donald Trump came to power. Then I thought, “Well at least he’s a privileged white male.” Just what the world needs.

Later, we watched Trump’s victory speech live on the laptop as James ate his porridge. He looked confused by all the clapping and tooth-flashing and hair-flipping going on among team Trump.

“If he’s a bad man, why is he saying nice things?” he asked.

“Because he’s a very happy bad man,” I said.

Here’s the thing: When parents ask, “How do I explain this to my kids?” about Trump, what we are really saying is “How do I make my kids not understand this? How do I make them know that in a reasonable world, Donald Trump is not what an American president should look like? How do I stop them growing up with the notion that angry, dangerous, racist bullies end up on top?”

Because the real problem is that, in the mind of child, a leader such as Trump is not difficult to understand. In the mind of a child, President Trump makes perfect sense.

After school, by pick-up time, James had completely lost interest in the news. He was more concerned with the question of who would win in a fight: A giant tarantula or a poisonous scorpion? It wasn’t that he didn’t grasp the notion of a cartoonish half-mad super-baddy in a position of power. It’s that his brain is so full of such notions it just seemed sort of … normal.

Just as Fran Lebowitz observed that Trump is “a poor person’s idea of what a rich person should look like,” so, too, is Trump a child’s idea of what a grown-up Boss of The World should act like. If you told four-year-olds that a loud angry man who became famous for yelling “You’re FIRED!” on TV had just assumed the highest office in the land, they would not be surprised.

Children don’t automatically understand the underpinnings of democracy, the importance of diplomacy, statesman-like conduct, tolerance and ruling by consensus. These are values we, as adults, have to teach them.

Children, by contrast, tend to see the world in stark hierarchical terms: All battles are epic, all bosses are tyrannical, all rich, powerful people look like the Trumps – shiny, plastic, spray-tanned. Good parenting, in many ways, is the process of chipping away at these simplistic and dangerous convictions and replacing them with a morally nuanced grasp of reality.

This goes for both privileged white kids such as mine as well as those who have more to fear from a Trump presidency. Yesterday, I was walking home from my son’s school when I ran into another mother, my friend and neighbour Aida, who is Muslim and originally from Turkey.

As our laughing sons zoomed ahead on their scooters, she sighed in disbelief. “My mother said to me this morning, ‘What does it matter that he won? We don’t live in America!’” she said. “But I told her of course it matters. It matters that this man who hates us is now president. It matters because my son will one day understand that. It will affect his childhood and his future no matter what I do to protect him from it.”

I wish I could have said something comforting, but there was nothing to say. Aida and I stood for a while watching our boys play. Then we hugged goodbye and went inside our separate houses to watch the news all over again.

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Follow on Twitter: @leahmclaren

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