Chances are, your kids have seen homeless people on the street and wondered what the word “refugee” means. And while you may want to shield them from social injustices, you also want to prepare them for life and reinforce that they can make a difference. Activism—whether it’s through a demonstration or writing a letter to a policy maker—helps kids feel like part of a local or global community, says Lina Acosta Sandaal, M.A., a family therapist in Miami. “It gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment.” What’s more, children involved in civic engagement learn key life skills: teamwork, public speaking, and patience, since many of the things we advocate for take time to change. It’s up to us as grown-ups to empower our children to make their voices heard. Keep reading for inspiration on how to start the conversation now.
While marching for a cause can encourage kids to stand up for equal rights, it can also be overwhelming for younger children (think thousands of people and hours of standing in large crowds, for starters). The best age for kids to start marching is about 8, when they tend to be more emotionally aware, says Acosta Sandaal, but it will depend on the individual child. If you think yours are ready to join a protest, here’s how to prepare them.
Before the big day, discuss your family values with your kids and why it’s important to attend the march, says Carmen Perez, the executive director of The Gathering for Justice and the national cochair of the Women’s March. If you’re taking your daughter to a women’s event, for example, tell her, “We’re marching because we believe that girls should have the same rights and opportunities as boys.” And make sure to use phrases such as “marching for” instead of “fighting against,” which can sound scary to kids.
Get kids involved in the planning process. Research official details, such as start and end points. Then, print out a map of the route and work with your family to decide where you might stop for rest and some snack breaks. And don’t forget to locate toilets ahead of time.
Ahead of the event, find out what size backpacks are allowed and fill them with essentials: a change of outfit, sunscreen, water, and cash for unplanned costs. The day of, wear comfy clothes and layers that are easy to stash.
When you arrive, locate and agree on a meeting place in the event that you split up, and find out where the police and welcome stations are located, says Diana Limongi Gabriele, a mom of two in New York who hosts a podcast on parenting and politics. “Even if your kids know your phone number by heart, write it on their arms with a sharpie, just in case.”
A march can last a whole day. If you need to take public transportation for a portion of the protest, go for it. Tell your kids that you’re giving it a rest because everyone is tired, but remind them how a march usually works. “You can say, ‘Protesters typically walk the entire way, but I want you to experience the end, so we’re taking a break,’” says Perez. They’ll still get the essence of why they’re there.