6. Our Protectors
Young kids are also comforted by the knowledge that there are people whose job it is to protect and help us. Some, like police officers, crossing guards, and park rangers, work nearby. Others, like the men and women in our army and navy, may work farther away. Your child can feel confident that no matter where these people are, they're ready to keep us safe. A tour of your local fire station can help him experience this in a real and exciting way.
For older kids, point out that our government is made up of people whose job it is to serve us. These include public-school teachers, postal workers, sanitation workers, our president, and the people we've picked to make rules for us, whom we call our senators and representatives.
7. Our Presidents
As Presidents' Day approaches, ask your child to imagine that she has become President -- the leader of our country. What would she do? Give all kids free ice cream? Make sure the world is a peaceful place? Talk about what some of our most important presidents have done; for instance, Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, fought to end slavery in this country and to keep all of the states together, instead of letting them split into two countries.
Explain that being President isn't the same as being a king, who rules for life. Every four years, we get to pick a new leader by voting. But in some other countries, people aren't allowed to choose who governs them, and their rulers don't leave office unless they're forced out.
For older kids, note that in America, "we, the people" are in charge. This kind of government is called a democracy. To illustrate this, involve your child in making some family decisions. "When kids have a chance to practice democracy, they value it," says Susan Adler, Ph.D., an associate professor of education at the University of Missouri, in Kansas City.
8. Our Rights
Our country is special because it guarantees us specific rights -- these are our freedoms. To bring this idea to life, show how you use your rights every week when you pray (or not), read the paper, and say what you think. Ask your child which rights would be most important to him.
It may be the right to eat pizza for breakfast or to ride his scooter in the park. "This helps you see what your child values, and it opens up other conversations," Dr. Berson says.
Ask older kids whether they think people in other countries have the same rights that we do. Explain that in some countries, people can't practice their religion or even complain openly about their leaders. Our freedoms are defined in the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, especially the first ten, called the Bill of Rights.
9. Our Responsibilities
Talk to your child about how our country is like a family: Everyone needs to pitch in. As a member of our country -- a citizen -- we go to school, vote, obey the law, and pay taxes. When your child sees you pick up litter off the ground, point out that being a good citizen means more than just following the law.
It means doing what you can to help others and to keep your community clean and safe.You can also set an example through community service. Find something that is important to your child, such as helping out at his school or cleaning up a playground, and do it together as a family. "Even if you volunteer only two or three times a year, you'll send your child a very positive message about how citizens pitch in," Robertson says.
10. Our People
In most countries, like China or Ireland, citizens share a common culture or ethnicity. But in America, we share a common idea -- that people should have certain freedoms. This promise of freedom has inspired people from all over the world to come here and become Americans. This is a profound and original notion that your child can be especially proud of.
Ask what she knows about your own family's journey to this country. Why did her ancestors come here? Why did they stay? Help your child understand that here, though we come from many different places, we have something in common -- we are all Americans. As Dr. Adler says, "By helping your children connect with people of diverse backgrounds, you're laying the groundwork for them to understand important concepts like justice."
Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the February 2002 issue of Parents magazine.