Election Day is upon us, and provides us with a great opportunity to teach our children about the importance of playing an active role in our democracy. But should you take your child with you when you go to vote?
According to Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, the answer is most definitely yes. “Some parents think voting is way over kids’ heads—that politics has nothing to do with their world and something they will be bored by,” she said in a blog on the Girl Scouts website, “but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Voting is about using your voice to stand up for what you believe in. I’m pretty sure that all of us as parents, regardless of our political leanings, want our children to grow up knowing that their thoughts and opinions matter. Plus, the candidates who are voted into office will be shaping our kids’ futures—from their educational options today to their financial realities as they become adults.”
So yes! You should take your child with you when you vote, but you should also talk to them about what’s happening, and why they should be excited to take part. Follow these easy suggestions to help your child become an excited, engaged citizen—even before they’re old enough to cast their own ballot!
1. Make it personal
Before you head to the polls, talk to your child about the purpose if the election and the candidates’ different views. Does your child love science and learning about outer space? Help them learn about the candidates’ feelings on space and science funding. If they’re into drama and dance, talk about how the candidates have a say in our national arts funding and see if either one has made statements about that. Are they really into animals? You can look up their stances on animal welfare. Does your child dream of having their own business someday? Check out the candidate’s plans to support small business owners. Similarly, if your child is familiar with the concept of recycling, discuss how the candidates feel about different environmental issues and how they say they’d address them if they were to win the election.
2. Explain to your child why it’s important to vote
Having a say in how your government is run is an incredibly powerful thing and an opportunity none of us should waste. Here in the UK, every citizen over the age of 18 has the right to vote—but that isn’t the case in all countries, and it wasn’t even the case here until less than a century ago. Talk to your daughter about the fact that prior to World War I, only men could vote. Women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1918, and even then, it was restricted to those over the age of 30. Ask your child how they would feel if only the children with red or black hair got to decide which games they could play at school during break time. Even the youngest of children can see how that’s not fair, and why everyone should have their say.
3. Let them know what to expect
Let your child know that there might be a lot of people in line and that you might have to wait a while to take your turn. Ask them to choose a book or quiet toy to take with them so they don’t get bored! And make sure they know that they can’t tell other people in line who they should or should not vote for—despite how excited they might be about their preferred candidate. That’s considered “electioneering,” (in other words, trying to persuade people to vote for a certain candidate) which is not allowed within a 250 metre radius of the main entrance of a polling station.
4. Keep them updated after the polls have closed
Don’t let the teaching moment end at the polling booth! Keep your child updated as the results come in. Tell them how many people in your area showed up to vote, and how many people in your county—they’ll love knowing they were part of something so big and important, especially if there weren’t many people at the polls when you showed up! If your favourite candidate won, sit down with your child and write a card of congratulations to the winner. If your preferred candidate lost, talk to your child about how voting is important anyway, because the government needs to know that there are many different opinions in our country. The point is to let your child know that their voice counts even if they’re not old enough to vote.