Engage Your Kids in the Election

History is always in the making. Important events that your kids will read about one day are happening now. We offered some tips for raising a good citizen, and this election season is the perfect time to get your kids excited about civics.

We spoke with Michael J. Berson, Ph.D., professor of social science education at the University of South Florida, about ways to engage your children during this exciting time in history.

1.  Hold a mock vote at home.

The Electoral College can be difficult even for adults to understand and kids may not be able to grasp the concept of the popular vote. A better way to familiarize kids with the notion of voting is by holding a mock election at home.

“Your family can vote on small things, like what to have for dinner that night,” says Dr. Berson. “The idea is to show them the power of choice, which they will carry with them later in life.”

But what happens when one sibling outvotes the other’s choice of mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner? Show your child how to “campaign” for her favorite meal the next night! This will not only teach her how to react when she don’t get her way, but will also help her understand how to enact positive change for an issue she cares about.

2. Read to your kids about elections

“One of the best ways to teach your children about the political process is by reading to them,” says Dr. Berson. “Read biographies of former presidents and don’t forget to read about first ladies as well.”

Here are some of our favorites: 

Ages 4–8: Woodrow for President: A Tail of Voting Campaigns and Elections by Peter and Cheryl Barnes

 Ages 4–8: So You Want to be President? by Judith St. George

Ages 9 and up: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

Ages 9 and up: First Ladies (DK Eyewitness Book) by Amy Pastan


3. Avoid negative TV ads

We often leave the TV commercials on in the background without thinking about them, but negative political ads could send the wrong message to kids. “It’s important for children to have visuals of the candidates,” says Dr. Berson. “Try muting the TV when negative ads come on and use the visuals to explain in positive terms who the candidate is and what issue the ad is talking about.”

 4. Attend political events as a family

This is a great way to for kids to participate in an election, but not all political events are appropriate for children. “Younger children may be frightened by hecklers or negative protestors at speeches and rallies,” says Dr. Berson. “A more developmentally-appropriate option would be to attend a parade that a candidate is in.”

5. Show your patriotism

It may not be appropriate to dress your child in t-shirts or stickers that promote a candidate they are too young to fully understand. Dr. Berson says that a better option is to give your child a flag to wave if you are attending a political event.

6. Keep it positive

Dr. Berson says that it’s good to show children your sense of connection to a particular party or candidate. However, you should always speak respectfully of opposing parties. Teaching your child to respect both sides is a great lesson that will carry over into other relationships in his life.

7. Discuss platforms, not parties

Encourage your child to create his own opinions by talking to him about different sides of issues as opposed to talking about the different parties.

8. Relate the election to your home and community

The best way for kids to understand politics on a national scale is by showing them ways to actively get involved in their home or community. You can start by letting your kids think of ways to improve the area around them by working on community service projects that they are passionate about. Sites like Volunteer Match, Do Something and The Volunteer Family offer great ways to learn about kid-friendly service opportunities in your community.

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  1. by Jan Baer

    On November 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I am finding it difficult to deal with the differences we have among family members about which direction we all think the country should go in. I have been watching MSNBC, Morning Joe (both Republicans and Democrats on show), for weeks to try to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. I have little patience for what I see is both elitism and dissembling among the far right. The Facebook comments have gotten heated! But when I talk with younger family members, I explain that both Democrats and Republicans working together often create the best solutions.

  2. by Nikita

    On November 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I bring the kiddies (2 and 5) to the polling place and let them help me fill in the bubbles (paper ballot). They get a kick out of it! and its their introduction to the process

  3. by Dawn

    On November 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I found this great poster online that you can dowload for free or place an order and they will mail you a copy. It explains the entire process of how to become president in a way kids can understand. I find this webiste to be a great resource!


  4. by Candi

    On November 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    With campaigning in full swing, evidence of the upcoming Presidential election is everywhere. There are incessant negative-campaign commercials on television. People are talking (some are arguing) about the candidates and their positions. News programs are dedicated to the issues involved. State and local organizations are holding events to inform voters. It’s hard for kids not to notice these things. So, what do you do when your preschooler starts asking questions? What follows is a sample dialogue that you can use with your preschooler.

    Child: What’s a Presidential election?

    Parent: We live in a democracy. Part of living in a democracy is that we get to choose who our leaders are. It’s kind of like where I work . . . you know I have a boss there, right?

    Child: Yes.

    Parent: Okay. Well, I didn’t get to choose my boss, but my boss gets to set the rules that tell how I should act when I’m at work. Remember when we talked about bosses?

    Child: Yes.

    Parent: Great! So, the President of the United States is kind of like the boss of our country. He (or she) gets to decided how we should act when we are in the United States. Does that make sense?

    Child: Yes.

    Parent: Because the United States… http://blog.nannies4hire.com/election/1065

  5. by Mike Briton

    On November 7, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Sorry guys, thou I see your point, I rather have my kids engage in the arts, sports, or world cultures.
    Being patriotic to me is a form of brain washing! I rather inform my kids the truth abut politicians, that they take bribes, cheat, lie and are generally dishonest people who only care about them selfs. And maybe our kids can change the system and world one day!

  6. [...] wasn’t targeting our specific demographic. I stumbled upon an article at Parents.com called, “Engage Your Kids in the Election”, which spoke specifically to parents. The writing was informal and very readable. We were then told [...]