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Sunday, October 28, 2012

PolitiKids: Introducing your Children to the Political Process

As election day approaches, eligible voters across the United States will head to the polls to cast their votes in the federal, state and local races. I've been actively engaged in keeping up with this year's tumultuous presidential election and simply by proximity my kids have gotten interested. I'm my family's resident political analyst, flooding my social media timelines with opinions and funny memes. I look forward to debates like my husband does Manchester soccer matches. Even though they're little, both under 5, I think it's important to introduce them to the political process, especially concepts of social justice and the knowledge that their voice matters. This week I'm sharing a few tips on how to raise pint sized politicos!

1. Start with the basics: Define terms.
What is an election? How do you vote? Why is it important?
If possible, try to keep your own divisive ideologies out of it. For kids younger than middle school age I don't think you need to address party affiliation. Explain what a President does. Governor, Mayor, State Representative, Congressperson, etc. My Kindergartener has been memorizing the 44 POTUS' since he was three. We have a cool place mat that helps him have fun with it. Make a local connection. Perhaps you'll speak more about figures that hail from your home state. Being in Illinois we talk a lot about Lincoln and Obama.

2. Stress the importance of equality
Explain that all votes matter. Save the electoral college discussion for later. Whether you are male or female, no matter your age, level of education or ethnicity help your child understand that being politically aware and active is their civic duty. Beware of using gender specific language. Just because we have yet to elect a female or Latino president tell your child it is possible - they may even become the first.

3. Skip the Cynicism 
Political opinions are often polarizing and controversial. Nix the sensationalizing and table the cynicism. We want to teach our children from a position that is unjaded. Politics, values and personal philosophies are certainly interwoven, but we must start with basic understanding. Liberals, Moderates and Conservatives alike believe in the principles of freedom and justice for all. Introduce a sense of democracy to your children in it's purest form. Treasure the innocent way they view the world and support their belief in fairness.

4. Lead by example
As their primary role models we must "show" more than we "say". Discuss domestic and foreign affairs with adults in the presence of your children; let them learn that it's OK to respectfully disagree with friends and family. Become involved with the school board, participate in neighborhood planning or volunteer for your candidate of choice. Take them to vote with you if possible. Let them admire the scores of citizens who participate. The idea is to demonstrate that one person can make a difference in the world around them; by getting involved they can impact their environment in a positive way.

5. Student Government and Extracurriculars
When the time comes, talk to your child about running for a student council post. This can give them an opportunity to truly understand what if means to be an elected official. Of course, some will win and other will lose. Teach them that this is simply a part of life. Whether or not they are the victor,  encourage them to demonstrate leadership everyday in classrooms, on the playground and after school clubs. This is a lesson in valuing their influence and using it to benefit others.