Voting is one of the primary ways we participate in our democracy, but it can be hard to know how to talk to kids about voting, especially during a contentious election season. Election Day is a great opportunity to help your kids understand how our country works—and to talk about the values you believe in (no matter who you’re casting your ballot for). Wondering how to get started? Try these seven tips for kicking off the voting conversation with your littlest citizens:
1. Illustrate the concept of voting. Even preschoolers can grasp the idea that voting is a way for people to make decisions. To bring the concept home, go grassroots. Try having a family vote about something that really impacts your child’s day. For example, vote about what to make for Sunday dinner, what game to play, or what book to read. For older children, try introducing the concept of nominating a meal or game before the vote—or get ’em on a soap box and let them make a speech to advocate for their favorite choice.
2. Share your beliefs. You absolutely can tell your kids who you’re voting for and why. Talk about the things that are important to you and your family in this election—after all, many of the decisions we’re making today, from environmental protection to affordable education and job creation, will impact your kids as they grow.
3. Teach respectful disagreement. For young children who are still learning how to be considerate to others and their perspectives, a combative election can be tough to understand, but this is a great time to teach kids that it is perfectly fine to disagree with people—and that we can all practice listening to other ideas with respect.
Talk with your child about how you practice listening to one another at home, even when you disagree. Use concrete examples, like: “Sometimes we can learn something important when we listen to each other’s opinions. Remember when you learned that your friend doesn’t like lemonade because they think it’s too sour? You love lemonade because it makes you feel cool and refreshed. You have different opinions, but you can still be friends who respect each other’s ideas and perspectives.” Remind them that sometimes when people have different opinions, it can lead to arguments. Grown-ups lose their tempers just like kids do. It’s good to apologize when we lose our cool. Talk about how to manage big feelings by taking time to calm down in a quiet space or with a deep breath.
4. Reassure them. During election season, media stories about hard-to-understand issues may cause kids concern. One of the best tactics to alleviate worry is to focus on kid-sized solutions. For example, if children are concerned about people being healthy and cared for, give them opportunities to help in ways that are understandable and immediate like: “We can help people stay healthy by wearing our masks and practicing social distancing.” Or: “We can help people feel cared for by using kind words and offering to help.”
5. Generate interest around elections. Whether you vote by mail or in person, show your children the ballot (most states have sample ballots online), and you can even help them create their own. You can set up a little voting booth and make them an “I Voted” sticker or button/badge for after they’ve cast their vote. By showing your kids that you think voting is important, they’ll be more likely to grow up participating in the voting process, too.
6. Use math to explain voting results. Represent the election results with a jar of bottle caps, crayons, or other household objects. Start with 100 objects and then divide them into two jars to represent the percentage of the vote each candidate received. Use words like more and fewer with younger children. Older children may want to help you count or write numbers on cards to label the jar for each candidate.
7. Point out signs of election season. There are a lot of signs an election is near, including bumper stickers, election signs, television commercials, and even campaign phone calls that interrupt dinner. Point out these concrete examples of election season and encourage your child to notice them as well. After all, these signals encourage us to learn about the candidates and remind us to vote.
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