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Talking to Children About the Election

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With the election just around the corner, I’ve been pondering how to engage my son in conversation about it. But if the unprecedented nature of 2020 has hammered in one lesson, it’s that there’s a “child” version and an “adult” version of everything. So the big question for me right now is: As we soak in the news (and perhaps lots of anxiety) in the waning days of the month, how do we help our children to begin to grasp fundamentals like civic duty, the freedom to express themselves, and the power of their own voices? And what, if anything, are they capable of understanding? 

No 2-year-old is going to master the complexities of the American political system — let’s face it, most adults don’t, either. But here are a few easy, developmentally appropriate ways to broach the subject with young children:

1. Bring them to vote, if you’re doing so in person this year. If not, let them peer on as you fill out mail-in ballots at the kitchen counter or point out campaign posters on your next walk.

2. Talk openly about the importance of kindness towards others, even the people we disagree with, and about how sometimes you win, but other times you don’t. 

3. Limit your child’s exposure to the news when possible. If not, make it an active, participatory experience. Talk about what you’re seeing on the screen. Describe candidates’ emotions or faces. Repeat and discuss some of the words that you hear. 

4. On Election Night — if the TV is on before bedtime — point out numbers, letters, and colors; you can even turn maps, charts, and chyrons into a game of “I Spy.” 

5. Read! “A Is for All All the Things You Are” breaks down complex subjects like “Fair” and “Xenial” through inclusive, kid-friendly illustrations. I also love Parker Looks Up, Max For President and this New York Times Book Review list of political books for kids. 

And remember, simple wins. Doing just one of these things can start to set a foundation for learning and conversations to come.  

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