Chances are, if you’re a parent, grandparent or teacher, you’ve talked to the kids in your life about the upcoming election. And chances are that you have a strong opinion about who you think should be president. Even if you think you’re not being biased, kids are great at picking up on subtle clues that tune them in to what people around them are thinking.
Here are some tips about why it’s important to talk to kids about the election, how to stay as unbiased as possible, and how to get them interested in the people who may be running the country for the next four years of their lives.
Why talking to kids about the election is important
Children are fascinated with the concept of the President of the United States. They understand that he commands enormous power and respect, and often dream of holding the same position. It shouldn’t be too hard to get them interested in how a person becomes president — and the election is the easiest piece of that puzzle for kids to grasp.
1. Kids will be more likely to vote in the future if their current role models show an interest in the election and vote for the candidate they support. Just like reading and eating habits, voting habits are passed down through families. Talking to your kids about voting is the best way to ensure that they will utilize their constitutional rights when they turn eighteen.
2. The election affects them. Try to impress upon kids the fact that the president directly affects their lives through the decisions he will make about education funding, abortion and gay marriage, as well as hundreds of other less-publicized, but no less important, laws and decisions.
Keeping your opinions to yourself
No matter how young your kids are, it’s not fair to force your opinions or values about the election on them.
1. Learn enough about both candidates so that you can explain the position each of them takes on social and economic issues that your kids may ask about. Being able to compare and contrast the candidates will help kids form their own opinions.
2. Avoid generalizations or exaggerations–i.e. “Obama has been a terrible president” or “Romney hates gay people.” The last thing you want to do is set such a negative, simplistic example for political dialogue. Remaining unemotional and unbiased (at least on the surface) will help your kids to do the same.
How to get them interested
I was in third grade when Clinton was up for re-election, and we did an entire class project on presidential pets. The fact that I still remember that the Clinton family had a cat named Socks shows you how fun little details about the election can stick in kids’ minds.
1. Ask kids what they would do if they were the president. Would they make school days longer or shorter? Would teachers get paid more for doing their jobs? Would everyone be able to get married to the person they love, regardless of sex?
2. Hold a mock election in your classroom or home. Print out ballots on the computer, and have your kids vote for their favorite candidate.
Voters of the future
Remember, today’s children are tomorrow’s voters. The best thing we can do to make sure that the voice of the people is heard in the coming years is to instill a positive interest in voting and the presidency now.
Photo: Orin Zebest via flickr