Politics and kids might not seem like a match made in heaven. For one thing, discussing current elections and party platforms smacks of (gulp) HOMEWORK.
It’s easy for children to become disengaged with politics because it feels so distant and abstract. But talking to them about how laws directly affect their lives helps make it feel more relevant and accessible.
Make it fun.
The election cycle is a great time to show kids that politics isn’t a dirty word, but that they need to be careful about how they interpret what they see on the news and from friends. Help your child develop a critical eye by talking about how snippets of overheard conversation can produce fearful misunderstandings and by pointing out that news sources are biased toward their own views.
Similarly, political ads are a great opportunity to explain how visuals and music can be used to sway the vote. And make sure to talk about the Electoral College and how it works.
There are many good children’s books about political process and a wide range of online resources that cover current events. Using both fiction and nonfiction, you can introduce your child to the electoral process as well as more abstract concepts like fairness and equality. You can also use these tools to encourage debate and discussion.
Make it relevant.
Politics may seem like grown-up stuff and a topic that kids don’t really need to think about. But politics affects everything they do and can be introduced to children at any age, experts say.
The first time a child notices that the man sleeping on the street has nothing but the clothes on his back and an empty plastic bag, for example, that’s an opportunity to talk about class consciousness. It’s the first time your child might think about the ways people struggle to meet their basic needs — and the ways governments have tried to address those struggles.
Even young children can learn about politics and laws that affect them, experts say. For example, when the city uses your tax dollars to fix a pothole in front of their school, that’s an opportunity for them to discuss politics and why the decision was made. That’s the first step in teaching them to make informed decisions on their own, ideally without imposing their parents’ convictions.
Make it a privilege.
Regardless of their age, children are intrigued by the idea that they can have an impact on society. It is important to teach them about the way our government and politics function, but the rate at which they go from simple understanding to being able to discuss nuanced concepts can depend on their parents.
It can be difficult to find the right balance between encouraging your child’s political awareness and making it feel like a burden or homework assignment. Try allowing them to vote on things that affect them, such as their class president or what they’d like to do on a school field trip, and explore the voting process with them. Talk about political ads on television and online, and how visuals and music are used to evoke emotion and influence people’s choices.
Ideally, your children will learn about both positive and negative current events in order to see that all sides of an issue have merit. This will help them develop critical thinking skills, which is something that will be necessary to navigate the world of US politics as adults.
Make it come alive.
Especially in younger kids, politics is not about voting or even national government; it’s about how people act together to make decisions. Even so, many children will pick up political ideas from their parents and peers, which can lead them to adopt partisan identifications.
When it comes to political discussion, experts suggest keeping the dialogue open and avoiding shaming or arguing with your kids. This will help them feel safe to express opinions and consider alternatives, which can help them develop a more well-rounded understanding of the issues they face.
It’s also important to show your kids that politicians are people, and that they don’t all have to be crooks. You can do this by reading books on politicians or checking out reputable websites or online news sources with your children. Also, take your kids to the polls during elections and talk about the candidates on the ballot. You can also encourage them to work on changing an issue that matters to them by getting involved in a community project, like preserving or beautifying the environment.