What a 3-Year Old, Bullies, and Counseling Have Taught Me About This Election

I want to start by saying that I want to give everyone a cyber-hug. A cyber-hug to those of you who are feeling sad, scared, and frustrated. A cyber-hug to those who are a part of the LGBTQ and  female community who feel like your path seems bleak. A cyber-hug to those of you who feel like your voice has finally been heard after years of being told that your voice doesn’t belong here. Cyber-hugs to all.

When I taught preschool, one of the girls in my class was…well…a bully. When she got mad, she would get into such a rage that she would literally gouge the other kids’ eyes. Children, teachers, and parents alike were afraid of her. Not only that, but she would sometimes evoke sadness and fear from her friends just to get a laugh. Her teachers would scream in outrage when she acted out. Other parents would comment, sometimes in front of her, that she was out of control. Her parents were at a loss of what to say. It was hard to watch sometimes, but I knew what I had to do.

I had to, and did, validate her anger. I told her that if my friends were doing that or saying that, it would make me feel sad and frustrated, too (even if it wasn’t true). Then, I had to teach her how to talk to her friends, how to appropriately deal with her fear and sadness; because, remember, anger is a secondary emotion that is only evoked when the person is feeling fear and sadness. It really helped that my co-teacher was on board and helped a lot, too.

I know, it sounds so counterproductive. But it worked. After a few short weeks, she was literally removing herself from the situations that would normally make her act out and then coming back when she found the right words to cooperate with her peers. In some cases, she had to stay in the cozy corner for several minutes just so she could calm down enough to let her anger pass.

After a few weeks, I was no longer writing daily notes to parents about why their child’s face was obliterated by her. She was happy, excited, making friends, and her parents reported that she was also using these skills at home.

I felt so proud for her. And not only that, but I felt so good to know that she was finally feeling like other people cared about her, felt her pain.

The thing about bullies is that they act out in anger because they feel like they aren’t being heard. And in many cases, they lack the proper life experiences or knowledge to be able to articulate their fears and come up with a better solution. And at the end of the day, in almost every case, they don’t even get a sliver of what they wanted simply because they were classified as “bully.”

I am beginning to see it in my own son. He is an anxious child, and his anxiety often pushes him to get angry and flustered to tears or worse. I try to see what is making him so fearful, but I often get caught up in my own fears of him turning into an unkind person that I forget to do what I need to make sure he knows that I am his ally. Being 3 is rough. It is to them, anyway, and they deserve the best reaction from us, their adult parents.

When I was a teenager, I started to attend counseling. I continued on to attend counseling until right before I got married. Over the course of those years, I remember almost nothing that I said or what was said to me. Except one thing. What I do remember is the relief I felt when my counselors said, “what you’re feeling is normal.” That kind of relief was beyond anything I could have imagined. I never thought that my anger, fear, and sense of frustration would be validated. Not in a million years. I thought that I was supposed to be finding new ways to bury those feelings. But when I was told that I was a normal human being for feeling that way, I was soaring. It was only then that I was on a healthy path to letting go of those feelings.

I don’t condone or agree with the hateful things that have been said by anyone in this election. And that is because I know you can’t fight hate with more hate. If you really do care about the kindness in our country, or ending racism, sexism, or homophobia, you can keep calling people names, updating your facebook status about how you just can’t believe what you are seeing, and many other reactions. You can. But it isn’t going to solve the problem.

Try to see what they see. Tell your family member or friend or coworker or enemy that if you perceived the world the way they do, that you would also feel afraid and angry. Once you know that you have adequately shown that you care about them, then you can try to offer alternative viewpoints. It may take a while, so don’t get your hopes up, but it is a step in the right direction. A much better step. I want our society to be free of racism, sexism, and homophobia, too. But in the last 8 years, I have failed to see the right solution to this problem.

After this election, I have seen many outraged people. If you are one of those people, if you feel like the bully has won, or that you are afraid and sad for yourself or your friends, I feel your pain, too. If you are feeling scared, get to know your local safe spaces and go when you think you need to. Talk to a counselor, friend, or loved one.

If you are one of the Trump supporters in my life, I want to say I am glad that you feel like you’re fears and voice are finally being validated. I hope, and believe, that you can approach your fears in a more productive way from here on out, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that a small smile crept across my face last night because I knew that you are finally feeling that relief I once felt in counseling those many years ago. That you feel like you aren’t alone in your fears anymore.

I didn’t vote for Trump. For the same reasons that I didn’t vote for Hillary- I don’t think they will solve the problems. I could be wrong. I know, I am one of those crazy third partiers. But I just wanted to vote for who I felt would be the best president. I assume that you all did the same.