Teaching children about the presidential election
Take advantage of this all-important election year to help your children learn more about democracy, political parties and the election process.
Kids want to know
You may be surprised by just how interested your child is in the presidential election. Before the 2008 elections, Nemours' KidsHealth.org asked more than 2,000 kids and teens across the nation what they thought and whether or not the election would affect them.
An impressive 75 percent of kids and 79 percent of teens answered “yes” when asked if they thought the outcome of the election would change their lives. And nearly half of teens surveyed believed they’d had at least some influence on their parents’ choice of candidate.
Ask your kids for their opinions. “Their answers are often interesting,” says clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr. John Duffy, author of The Available Parent. “Parents find that their children are more savvy and insightful than they would have thought.”
Draw age-appropriate parallels
“A great way for parents to explain the presidential election is to compare it to what happens among peers who are rallying on the play yard for friends,” says child and family psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent.
Compare the election to the way kids should choose friends:
- Don't choose friends by the way they look on the outside.
- Do choose friends based on how they treat you and others.
- Don't choose friends based on what they say they will do.
- Do choose friends based on how they actually behave.
Dr. Walfish likens it to a fellow student running for class officer. “A good friend should not say, ‘I’ll be your friend and let you play with us if you vote for me for student council,’” she explains. “A good friend doesn’t threaten or bargain with you.”
Look for similar parallels that may help explain the election process. “This exercise builds character, ethics and values in children and helps them choose true, genuinely good friends," says Dr. Walfish.
Highlight the positives
“I encourage parents to start by highlighting the positives regarding elections,” says Dr. Duffy:
- Individuals running for President really want to help the people of our country.
- Candidates are willing to sacrifice all of their time, effort, knowledge and privacy to do it.
- They really believe that they have some really good ideas to make our country strong: How our taxes are spent, how our nation relates to the rest of the world and what U.S. citizens should be able to decide on our own.
Downplay the negatives
Kids see and hear plenty of nasty political campaigning. Help your children see that slander campaigns are a lot like school bullying.
Positive ads: Dr. Duffy suggests telling your child, “I prefer ads and speeches where they talk about what they will do to fix the things that are broken and sustain the things that are not.”
Explain that a positive campaign lets us know what to expect from the candidate once he or she takes office.
Negative ads: Dr. Duffy recommends saying, “I don’t like those ads because you shouldn’t have to cut someone else down in order to build yourself up.” That's what bullies do!
“Make this a teachable moment," adds Dr. Duffy. “It’s the perfect opportunity to discuss how we treat others and want to be treated by them.“
The experts at Nemours' KidsHealth.org recommend taking your kids with you into the voting booth on Election Day, if possible, to show them firsthand how the process works. You'll set a positive example that shows how much you value the right to vote — and that every vote counts.