Voting is one of the primary ways people participate in democracy. Through voting, we are able to have our voices and opinions heard and have a say in who our leaders will be. These concepts are important to explain to your kids, especially during large scale elections such as the presidential election and congressional elections.
When teaching your kids about voting, be sure to use age–appropriate language when explaining these topics, as some might be confusing or too advanced for your kids to understand.
Explain the Concept of Voting
Explain to your kids that voting is a crucial part of democracy. It contributes to all parts of society, including laws, elected officials, and local budgets. You can call these concepts “rules” and “leaders” for younger kids who might not understand what laws and elected officials are. If more people agree on who they want to be their leader, that’s called a “majority.”
The process of actually casting a vote is also important to discuss. Votes must be cast in person or through the mail using a mail-in or absentee ballot. Despite the internet and modern technology, you can’t vote online or over the phone. Ballots are pieces of paper or the like on which voters mark their votes.
But voting doesn’t happen all the time! Make sure to explain that while voting is important and talked about often, people only vote twice a year in primary and general elections. People who are running for office are called “candidates.” Typically on an election day, people cast their votes at local places such as libraries, schools, and community centers.
Explain How Elections Work
Knowing the basics surrounding the U.S. government, how elections work, and the presidency will help you teach your kids more about these important topics. Explain that regardless of who is elected, they must work together with others, even if they have different opinions and viewpoints, to create meaningful change.
As kids get older, they will start to understand the differences between political parties and opinions. This is when explaining things can get trickier. It’s important to introduce the idea early that politics are not black and white. Reinforce that your kids’ opinions on important topics should be part of their decision on who to vote for, not just because of the party the candidate is affiliated with.
Check out our guide about presidential elections to help your kids learn about the leader of the United States, how they’re elected, and what their powers are. Plus, we’ve compiled a list of resources you can use to teach your kids about elections and the presidency.
Teach Respectful Disagreement
In the current political climate, it can be hard to field open and understanding conversations with others about politically relevant topics. Even for most adults, having respectful disagreements can be challenging. Make sure to teach and reinforce often that kids can have open conversations with their peers about politics without it becoming a fight. It’s perfectly fine for your kids to disagree with people, but we should practice listening to other ideas with respect.
Talk to your kids about how you handle disagreements at home and use concrete examples to illustrate how they can act. Don’t be shy about the shortcomings of adults either! Talk to your kids about the fact that grown-ups lose their tempers, too, but that’s okay. The important thing to do when that happens is apologize.
Encourage respect, kindness, and humility and demonstrate these characteristics often. Remind your kids that listening and asking them questions isn’t the same as agreeing with someone, and that we can still disagree while treating them with respect and kindness.
Illustrate Voting Importance
Using concrete examples of how voting works and why it’s important is a great way to get your kids involved early in knowing how to partake in their civic duties as adults. For this exercise, find 10–20 stuffed animals or toys to use as voters and candidates.
All of the stuffed animals are going to submit a vote one at a time at their local community center (AKA your living room). Select three “candidates” from the pool to run for mayor in their local Fluffy Town election.
During election day, only ¾ of the animals decided to vote. Some of the animals didn’t feel like voting and because they didn’t vote, they didn’t get a say in which animal was elected. Have your kid(s) cast a ballot as well. Once everyone has voted, count up the results.
Break down the results for your kids to show how the process works.
- Candidate one received X votes
- Candidate two received Y votes
- Candidate three received Z votes
For this exercise, it’s important to show your kids that even if they vote for someone, it doesn’t mean they will win. When deciding who to “elect,” think about choosing the candidate your kids picked to be the losing candidate and illustrate this. Or have multiple “elections” to demonstrate that voters can change their opinions from one election to the next.
There are two important takeaways from this exercise:
- Sometimes who you vote for doesn’t win the election, but that’s one of the cornerstones of democracy. But don’t let your kids be discouraged! It’s okay if the candidate they voted for doesn’t win because there are more elections and more ways to make their voice heard.
- Whenever you have the opportunity to vote, it should be exercised. Even if the candidate you want doesn’t win, there’s always a better chance for your opinions to be heard when you vote.