How to Get Your Child Excited about the Presidential Election
Love it or hate it, politics is the subject on everyone's minds right now. Political commercials, debates, news coverage, and, of course, social media are all buzzing about the upcoming presidential election. As with every election year, this election is being touted as the most important election in our history, and this may very well be the most important one. We'll have to wait until it makes the history books to find out, but it certainly has Americans polarizing to one side or the other. With both republicans and democrats completely sure their candidate is superior and neither understanding how independents can still be undecided, tension is in the air everywhere.
I'm not going to give my political opinions here. Instead, I want to give some practical advice that parents on either side of the political aisle can use to help their children cope with the tension and, hopefully, get excited about the political process that makes our nation great.
Talk Politics with your Child
Kids are hearing about the election whether it's a topic at home or not, so don't shy away from the subject. Talk to them about what a president does and about the candidates. Keep it age appropriate. My god daughter was in kindergarten during the 2008 election, and she brought home her little Scholastic voting pamphlet and informed her mom she had voted that day. My friend was curious about who she had chosen, because they hadn't really discussed the candidates much so she asked. My god daughter proudly told her mom who she had chosen, and her mom questioned her on why she had chosen this particular candidate. She told her mom that she really liked his smile.
It is definitely good to share your views and let your child know why you are voting for the candidate you have chosen, but try to say something positive about the other candidate, too. At the end of election night, one of these men will be their president and it may not be the candidate you wanted (which usually becomes the one your child roots for) so having something positive in their minds about each candidate might help alleviate some of their fears. If you can't think of anything nice to say, you can always pacify a younger child with, "He has a nice smile."
Read Books about Past Presidents
Go to the library and check out some books on presidents of the past. Read about Washington and Lincoln. Read about the presidents of your childhood and share things you remember. Tell them who was president when they were born. They'll love hearing about the men who have worked in the Oval Office, and maybe they'll be inspired to try for the job themselves one day.
Make Voting a Family Event
Take the kids into the voting booth with you. They'll love the excitement and be much more likely to vote when they grow up. One of my earliest political memories is being behind the curtain of a ballot box with my mom and having her read the choices to me before she cast her vote. At the time, I thought I was helping her decide who the president would be and I was thrilled.
Go to a Rally
Political rallies are charged with excitement. If one of the candidates visit your area and your child is old enough to sit through a speech, don't miss the opportunity. I took my older children (10 at the time) to a see one of the vice presidents four years ago. We don't live in a battleground state, but when I learned that a candidate was only two and a half hours away we had to make the trip. We were in security lines for over an hour. It was early morning, so we watched the sunrise while we waited and it was a little chilly. We kept wore our gloves and kept our scarves in place, and we had the best time. We talked to other supporters and sipped our cocoa and just got more excited the longer we waited. I don't remember much about the speech, and I am sure my kids don't either but we'll never forget the excitement. I now have several smaller children in the house, so we'll be skipping the rallies. Know your kids. If they are mature enough then it is an amazing opportunity to build an unforgettable memory. If not, well, don't even try it.
Count the signs
Keep a notebook in the car and count the signs for each candidate. We usually just count the presidential signs and try to figure out who is winning the city, but the game could work for local races, too. Kids don't know they are learning to make educated guesses. They think they are playing a game.
Other Fun Activities to Engage Children in Government
- Take a family vacation to Washington, D.C. There are so many great things to do that spark an interest in American History and Government, and most of them are free. Ages seven and above will probably enjoy this trip, but kids over the age of twelve will probably enjoy it most. If a trip to the nation's capital is a little out of the budget, spend a day in the state capital.
- Watch the news together, and discuss it. Stay age appropriate, but don't shy away from controversial topics.
- Always speak respectfully of elected officials even when you don't agree with them. It is possible to have major issues with the person and still respect the office.
- Read historical fiction about important events in American History.
Have a Party
Every four years on election night, we put on our pajamas early and everyone gets a coloring page of the United States, a red crayon, and a blue crayon. We sit up playing board games while the news is on in the background, and we color the states red or blue as the projected winners are announced. My kids love it. We also make patriotic snacks and stay up really late hoping to have a winner before we fall asleep.
Electoral College Game
Use this time to explain the electoral college to your kids. We buy red and blue M&M's and put M&M's into the jar as the states are called. Kids will wonder why each state has a different number of electorates, and you can explain that the states have different numbers of delegates based on how many people live in their states. The kids may not have a full grasp of the concept, but they won't forget who taught the lesson and they'll be one step ahead of classmates. (And don't all of us like for our children to be just a little ahead of the class?)
I hope some of these activities help you get your kids excited this election season. The most important thing you can do for your kids is vote and let them know you vote. We are raising little American citizens and getting them involved in politics early teaches that they have some say in their government and makes them more likely to be politically active adults. That's good for all of us on both sides of the political aisle.