As kids reach elementary age, they can begin to grasp concrete political details. They can also start to comprehend abstract concepts like democracy and patriotism, but they are often exposed to negative campaign messaging that can leave them fearful or confused.
Focus on how laws impact things that directly affect your child, such as their local school, roads or parks. Use books that explore general concepts of fairness and justice.
1. Make it fun.
Kids don’t need to know every detail about the minutiae of Parliament or how elections work, but they do need to feel like they’re part of a conversation that matters. Focus on political issues that touch their lives, says Dr Myers-Walls. Whether it’s the pothole on their road or the decision about which film to watch at family movie night, discussing politics makes kids feel they have a voice and that their opinion counts.
When they’re old enough to vote, they can start getting excited about their choices and their role in society. Stay current with news sources geared toward children, and read books together that explore political ideas. It’s also important to let kids hear you discuss topics you don’t agree on, so they can see how important it is to consider different viewpoints.
2. Show them how to stay current.
The speed at which kids go from a starkly limited understanding of politics to wrapping their heads around nuanced issues depends on the scaffolding they get from adults. Avoid a focus on the minutiae of legislature, and instead help them find and use a method for keeping abreast of topics that interest them.
It’s also important to encourage discussion of local and state issues, rather than just national ones. That will teach them that politicians are responsible for things like roads, schools and parks, and that the values of people who live in different places can shape how policies are made.
It will also show them that their actions can make a difference. For example, if they care about the environment, encouraging them to participate in local recycling efforts makes them feel like their voice is heard, even though they aren’t old enough to vote yet.
3. Tackle the tough topics.
Politics can be a touchy subject. The minutiae of legislature and voting procedures can be boring for kids, so find fun ways to introduce the topic. Watch Liberty’s Kids, a star-studded cartoon about the founding of America, or at family movie night, see if you can find an age appropriate political film.
Discuss the importance of activism. Encourage your children to find a cause they care about and get involved. Support their efforts at activism by encouraging them to attend rallies and debates, and offering your support.
Don’t shy away from discussing tough topics, like the bullying and mudslinging that occurs during election season. It is a necessary part of learning about politics and shows your children that it is okay to voice opinions without being obnoxious or mean.
4. Make the law come alive.
Politics may seem abstract to kids, but focusing on legislation that affects their lives can make it more real. That pothole the two of you encounter on the drive to school or a 5p carrier bag charge can spark an interest in how laws are made.
As children reach elementary age, they can start to understand concrete political details, but abstract concepts still elude them. This, combined with a tendency to get their information from overheard conversations, can lead to fearful misunderstandings.
By helping them understand how law is made, you can give them the tools to form their own opinions and become informed citizens. Ideally, you’ll be able to work together as a nonpartisan household. But if that’s not possible, don’t discourage your child from discussing his or her own opinions with you.
5. Just vote.
Politics can become a hot topic during election season, and it’s important to show your kids that it doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Instead, encourage them to talk about their feelings, opinions and concerns, which can provide reassurance and perspective.
For example, if they’re worried about the economy and jobs, help them understand that politicians are people with different views and priorities who work to make the best decisions they can. Reassure them that most politicians are not bad, but some may be and that they should research candidates to separate fact from fiction.
If they’re old enough to vote, encourage them to do so. It’s important that they understand that voting is an honorable responsibility and that every voice counts.