How to Talk with Your Child about Voting
If you’re in the United States, you know that election day is coming up fast, and you’ve probably already been fielding questions from your child about voting and the election.
This article by Dr. Laura Markham of Aha Parenting will give you language to answer questions about electoral politics in an age-appropriate way for kids from preschoolers to teens.
While you may consider politics a topic that is fit only for adults, your child is certainly hearing about the election and drawing conclusions. Why not take the opportunity to have discussions that develop critical thinking, good citizenship, and values?
But first, let’s talk about involving your child in voting. There are so many reasons to bring your child with you to vote, or to involve them as you complete your mail-in ballot:
- Kids learn that voting is an important part of being a good citizen from their parents.
- Voting with your child gives you a chance to talk about the ordinary people who have fought and sacrificed for the right to vote.
- Involving kids in voting teaches them a real-life lesson in democracy and governance — including the challenges and the parts that still need to be improved.
- Talking about your voting choices gives you a chance to talk about values.
- Taking your child with you to vote helps show our country that families matter and have a powerful voice.
I’m hoping that if you haven’t already voted, you have a plan to vote, whether on election day or in advance. And I’m hoping that you’ll involve your child!
Yes, there may be a line if you vote in person. But that’s part of the lesson — Voting is such a privilege that we’re willing to endure a little discomfort to do it. People all over the world have fought and sometimes died for the right to vote. Bring an umbrella, snacks, and some books about voting to read as you wait. (There are links to several good ones below.)
Check here to find out where your polling place is: vote411.org. After you vote, take a photo (outside the polling place) and post it on social media #FamilyVote to inspire other parents.
Here are some talking points and questions to ask your child to help them understand the electoral process, listed by age from preschoolers to teens.
Voting discussion tips
Kids this young should not be exposed to the news, but they will notice signs and the general excitement. Explain political issues in terms that your preschooler can relate to, like fairness.
- “Voting is one way that people make decisions about how we will live and work together. For instance, let’s vote on whether to have pizza or pasta tonight.”
- “The President is the most powerful leader in the government. We all vote so that everyone gets to say who they think should serve as President. If only certain people got to decide, then that wouldn’t be fair, would it?”
- “All those signs in front of people’s houses are showing who they plan to vote for. They’re hoping that their sign will make you want to vote for the person they like. What do you think about that?”
- “How would you decide who to vote for? That’s right, by whether you think they are a good person and have good ideas and will do good things.”
- “People can disagree about whether or not something is a good idea for our country, and still be friends with each other.”
All of the above, plus:
- “Our democracy is set up so that lots of people are involved in making decisions. Who is President is important, but it is also important who is elected to Congress.”
- “In our town, we will be voting about whether to fix the roads. That will mean paying more taxes, because we have to pay for the roads somehow. Taxes also pay for schools, libraries, hospitals and playgrounds. If we don’t all chip in, who would pay for these things? Do you think that is worth it?”
- “Why do you think voting matters? That’s right, if someone doesn’t vote, they are letting everyone else decide for them.”
- “If you were 18, who would you vote for? How would you make that decision?”
All of the above, plus:
- “What did you think about that political ad we just heard on the radio? Did it convince you? Why or why not?”
- “Do you think all political ads tell the truth? How could you fact-check what they say? How do you know which sources to trust?”
- “All the votes get added up, and that is called the popular vote. But that isn’t necessarily who wins the presidential election. The people in each state vote for who they want to be president, and they send “electors” to vote for that person in the Electoral College. There are 538 electors all together, so how many of those would you need to vote for you if you were running? That’s right — 270, which is half plus one.”
- “Some people think the Electoral College isn’t fair because the candidate who wins the electoral college vote may not win the popular vote, which means that the majority of Americans didn’t actually vote for that person. Other people think the Electoral College is a good way for states with fewer people to have an impact on the election. What do you think?”
All of the above, plus:
- “When you see political information on social media, who put it there? How can the people who re-post it know if it is true? What do you think about other countries setting up fake accounts to post things that are designed to influence our voters?”
- “Do you think everything the candidates say in their debate is true? If you were the moderator, how would you structure the debate so that we the people can get the information we need to make good decisions about voting?”
- “Many of us look at people who disagree with us and we think ‘How could they even think such a thing?’ But we form opinions based on the information we get from our news sources and from social media. That other person who disagrees with us is seeing completely different information on their social media feed and even from news sources, so they are forming completely different opinions about what is true. What do you think this does to a democracy? What could we do about it?”
- “What responsibility do our elected leaders and news media have for telling the truth and role-modeling respectful civic engagement?”
- “Usually in the US, all the votes are counted and a winner declared on the night of an election. But because of the pandemic, many people are voting by mail and some states don’t start counting those ballots until election day, so we may not have all the ballots counted for a week. What can we do to help everyone stay patient and peaceful until the votes are all counted, to protect the democratic process and ensure fairness?”
Published with permission from Aha! Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham.
Dr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist, earning her PhD from Columbia University. But she’s also a mom, so she translates proven science into the practical solutions you need for the family life you want.
Dr. Laura is the author of the books Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings:How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life. For more information, visit ahaparenting.com