Politics can seem like a dry, complicated topic, but it’s important to discuss politics with your children. They’ll need to know what they can control, such as how laws affect their daily lives.
Even very young children can start learning about the democratic process by voting for where to eat dinner out or what movie to watch for family movie night. Then they can learn how their votes affect others in the community and country.
Explain the process of government.
More and more families are engaging in political discussions, and it’s never too early to start talking about how government works. Kids are naturally curious and want to know how their government makes decisions about the things that affect them, such as taxes and potholes.
Explaining politics can help kids feel more connected to their community. It also gives them the language to talk about how their own beliefs, like fairness and equality, might impact the way they vote.
A good place to start is with the basics, like how Congress sets the budget and laws about mandatory spending (known as appropriations bills). You can then move on to talking about how these laws are passed. A bill can only become a law once both houses of Congress approve it, and the president signs it or vetoes it. A vetoed bill can still become law if two thirds of both houses vote to override it.
Explain the role of the media.
Throughout history, the power of the mass media has played an essential role in American politics. From newspapers, radio and television to social media, mass communications has shaped the political process and public opinion.
While it may seem difficult to discuss politics with kids, it’s important that they do hear about the partisanship and division in society. As a result, they’ll have a better understanding of why people might have differing opinions on certain issues.
Children have a natural interest in social issues, and even toddlers can grasp concepts like fairness. You can help cultivate your child’s interest in politics by talking to them about how people treat others — for example, when they see someone with a disability standing on the street asking for donations or veterans handing out poppies at an event. This can lead to a discussion of how political choices affect our everyday lives. Educating your child about the role of the media is also important.
Explain the importance of voting.
A child can be overwhelmed by the complexity of political issues and easily become frustrated. They may feel that their vote doesn’t make a difference, especially during an election when the winner could be determined by one or two votes.
Explain that voting is important because it sends a message to elected representatives about what you care about, and how you want to be treated as an individual. Then show them how their vote affects their everyday lives – the potholes that get repaired on their commute, or the new law banning smoking in cars with children present.
Encourage them to learn about the history of voting rights and the importance of activism, like the fight to allow women, people of color, and young people to vote. Share with them the different opinions that you hold on a particular issue and how to be a thoughtful critic of the news without being argumentative or angry.
Explain the importance of activism.
Kids of all ages are interested in and concerned about the world around them, but the rate at which they move from limited, stark political understanding to wrapping their heads around nuanced, conceptual issues depends on how adults scaffold the process.
Make politics fun and relevant. Focus on local and state laws and how they affect your child. Explain how the city uses tax dollars to fix a pothole or build a park, for example. Talk about how that affects other citizens, too.
Encourage your children to get involved, such as by volunteering or voting. It’s a privilege that people fought and died for, and it’s a great way to help solve problems they care about.
Show them how to find age-appropriate news on the internet or through books like Follow the Moon Home and Vote!. Educate them on the differences between passion and vitriol and encourage them to seek out multiple sources of information before forming their opinions.