Starting Conversations With Your Kids About Politics

by Aaron Finch

Have you ever had the experience of NOT being able to have a conversation with your children about politics? 

Asking them questions on all sides of the issue and getting an answer that is purely opinion? 

That is because they have almost no idea what they are talking about. It’s hard to argue or reason with their answers when most of their life experience has been limited to the “two sides” you’ve been talking about. 

So what do we do next time we want to discuss politics on a smaller level with our kids — which, let’s be honest, is often uncomfortable for us but important for them at a young age? Here are some things I suggested doing and some resources I found helpful ourselves.

Before we begin with our kids, let’s remember they are young and we can help them learn more by taking things one step at a time. 

So don’t expect things to be perfect or that you’ll never disagree. Just try to keep the long term goal in mind of teaching your children about government, about civic engagement and helping them understand what all those people at the polls every two, four or six years are voting for.

1. Read!

First on the list of things to do: Read! It’s important for us, as parents, to expose our children to a wide range of different views and ideas.

 That will help them become good thinkers and good citizens. My favorite quote I found on this subject is from writer Adam Gopnik — “We have an obligation to disagree well.

 We have an obligation to treat disagreement not as a sign of disrespect but as evidence that we are living in a republic.” 

The truth is, very few people out there are experts on any given issue — even those who make it their life’s work. So it’s best if we don’t leave our opinions up to them. Instead, we must be prepared to explain them to them, thoughtfully and respectfully.

2. Take your kids out of their comfort zone

Next, let’s try breaking the politics down into fun topics children can understand and discuss more than just the two sides. 

If your child has a passion for sports, find a local team they can root for and talk about how they are helping out by getting off their couch and voting in a few elections each year — or even the next election.

 If they’re into horses and racing, talk about the local pols who help make those races possible. 

And if your children like to go to parks and play on playgrounds, tell them about how the city installs new bridges or roads, and how they help keep those parks clean and safe.

3. Have a lot of fun with it — but be serious too

When discussing politics with our children, we need to remember that we are not just talking about parties or leaders — we are talking about governance for the nation.

 Even though we are talking about our children’s neighborhood, we are talking about the future of our country. 

So don’t forget that. It’s important to have fun but always do so with a serious tone: If there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they can take a joke when told in the appropriate context.

4. Focus on the big picture

Finally, remember to give your child my definition of “big picture.” 

This doesn’t mean every child needs to be involved in all political decisions made by their local government — but it does mean that children should understand what those decisions may mean for them, their families and the world around them. 

It also means they need to know that those decisions come down to decisions made by the people they elect — and maybe even a few who don’t get elected.

5. Watch out for biases

What is this “big picture” I’m talking about? It’s realizing that we are not above being biased ourselves.

 If you’re like me, you probably are biased without even knowing it. 

That’s why I like the resources provided in this article by Our Time Press as they break down some ways we can teach our children to watch out for bias in themselves, ways we can fill their brains with valuable information and resources, AND how to make them good citizens of their own community — not just voters for the national government.

6. Contact your children’s school

The article above talks about how we can teach our children to be “civic learners” — not just “political learners.”

 This is important because one of the key factors in the civic learning process is gaining experience outside of the home. 

The best place to do that, of course, is in school. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where you can talk with local school officials and teachers, let them know what you desire for your children and students alike — to learn more about government and how it works — and see if they can at least begin a conversation in their classrooms with this goal in mind.

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