Contributor Shayna Gehl, writer, photographer, and mom of three, adds her voice to the struggle we all face in teaching our kids kindness, empathy and awareness of how our words and actions impact others. 


Can I see a raise of hands for any parent who struggles getting their kids to follow directions when others around them aren’t? Anyone? Don’t be shy, I’ve got both of my hands (and my right foot) up. Seriously. Let’s talk bedtime. If I’ve got even one kid out of line, they always manage to take the others down with them, in barbaric fashion at that! I’m sure teachers can relate to this too. Even if the class doesn’t choose to follow the problem child’s quest for disruption, the poor example remains and disrupts the entire class. I have a tremendous respect for teachers knowing they have so many different jobs in addition to just teaching. Yet in both settings, positive and respectful behavior is helpful, while destructive and disrespectful behavior is not.

Having said that, we are all well aware that our children are going to observe negative behaviors countless times throughout their lives. We know life is not just lollipops and rainbows, and it’s impossible to shield our children from the naughty and only show them nice. However, there are certain stages of life during which we expect to be dealing more often with inappropriate behaviors and disrespectful words than others. We are prepared to discuss Billy calling Gina a nerd on the playground in 3rd grade. We expect to hear about a Facebook duel over “likes”, or devastation over the lack thereof, from our 16 year old kid. These are all common scenarios we expect to encounter during different stages of child and adolescent development. So what do we say when we suddenly face explaining these same type of behaviors coming from adults? We are adults and by this point we should know better. We’ve learned. To complicate things even more, what do we tell our children if we observe poor behaviors from an adult who is functioning in a role our country typically honors and holds in high regard? What if we are talking about the President of the United States?

This past year, our country (and the rest of the world) has observed this individual declare his candidacy for president and run an incredibly sloppy, deceitful, and offensive campaign, only to win in the end. After taking office, he has continued to obsess over how he is perceived and to continually engage in frivolous twitter fights with anyone and everyone who doesn’t consider him the “best”.  We (and our children) were introduced to “alternative facts”. That’s a chilling type of psychological warfare we’re now battling as a country.

How am I supposed to explain this to my kids? What do I say to my children who ask:

– Mommy, why is Mr. Trump acting this way?
– I don’t know.

– Why is he lying so much?
– I don’t know.

– Isn’t lying wrong?
– Yep.

– Do you believe him mom?
– Nope.

– But he’s the president of our country!
– I know.

– He’s an adult. He should know better.
– Yep.

I recognize there are many out there who believe this is a “teachable moment”. This could be a lovely time to discuss how we can’t control others, we can only control ourselves. We can’t let the behavior or words of others affect us. We are our own bosses and we are in control. These are all valid points. However, when we makes these kinds of excuses, we’re simply trying to reassure ourselves that we shouldn’t be bothered by the troubled bully on the playground, or the rude classmates in the lunch room, or the catty coworkers at the vending machine. In those instances, I get it. We need to be the bigger person. Take the high road. I am prepared to discuss all these points and more with my children. Someday. But, I wasn’t prepared to discuss them now, in reference to our sitting President.

So let me ask again, what ARE we supposed to tell our children? How can we teach them that words matter and really impact other people even though the President doesn’t seem to think so? How can we convince them that words shouldn’t be treated lightly, especially in times of anger or stress? Are we supposed to teach them to be the bigger person, even when the President isn’t?

I’d love some advice, because I really don’t know.


Shayna Gehl is a mother of 3 currently living in Plainfield, New Jersey. Shayna lived in Brooklyn from 2010 until April 2017 during which she discovered a love for both photography and writing. Aside from contributing to A Child Grows, Shayna has been featured on The Huffington Post, iVillage.au, SheSavvy, and appears in the upcoming documentary film Mom is a dirty word set to premiere later this year.