Politics is how people in groups make decisions at the national and local levels. It includes elections to choose public officials and laws made by those officials.
Kids can understand politics at a variety of ages, though the speed and depth of their understanding will vary. Help them grow as informed citizens by discussing the basics:
Explain the Elections
Children are eager to learn about politics and Parliament, especially during election season when they see posters in shops and manifestos on their doorsteps. Rather than dismissing these topics as ‘grown-ups’ business’ or telling them all politicians are crooks, help them understand how their decisions have an impact on everyone in society.
As they get older, kids will start to understand more concrete political details. This will give them the foundation they need to begin voting in elections when they are old enough.
Younger children will probably find it easier to understand how political issues affect them, such as the 5p carrier bag charge or local schools. Focus on these examples to make the subject seem relevant and accessible.
Explain that the media has its own bias and only represents one side of a debate. Encourage them to read books and reputable online news sources from a range of perspectives. By doing this, they will be able to form their own opinions instead of being taught that only one viewpoint is the right one.
Explain the Parties
Politics and government involve many different people with a variety of ideas. The diverse conditions and ideologies of different historical eras gave rise to political parties—Know-Nothings, Free-Soilers, and Dixiecrats—to advance specific ideals and promote particular candidates in presidential elections.
When discussing the issue of politics with children, it’s important to keep the conversations positive. Discussing mudslinging and smear campaigns can be upsetting to young children. It’s also a good idea to help your kids understand how political ads work and explain that their visuals and music are designed to elicit emotions from viewers.
Political parties are a vital part of our democracy and facilitate the election process by organizing voters and raising money for candidates. However, the parties can also be divisive in terms of promoting ideological positions that conflict with each other or differ from their base constituencies. For example, a party’s stance on foreign policy may clash with its base in the South or its traditional support among seniors.
Explain the Voting Process
We tend to associate politics with big, momentous events in history, but it’s actually how people in groups make decisions at a variety of levels. Discussing this with your kids can help them understand the world around them.
Explain that all laws start out as bills, and a bill is first introduced by a representative or senator. A bill then goes to a small group of representatives or senators called a committee. The committee will review the bill and decide what changes, if any, should be made. After the committee approves a bill, it is sent to the full House or Senate for a vote.
Emphasize that the best way to grow a political consciousness is to learn about many different perspectives and opinions on an issue. Tell them that media outlets often plug specific, favored viewpoints and that it’s important to read diverse articles and listen to different views. Then, they’ll be better able to determine which ones are likely to be biased and to form their own opinions about the issues they hear about in the news.
Explain the Issues
Talk about the big issues going on in our political world. Ask your kids what they know and how they feel about different topics and politicians. Be sure to discuss any opinions they may have in a nonjudgmental way and help them understand that you don’t have to agree with everyone. Read books and reputable news sources with them.
As they get older, it’s important to help children develop a deeper understanding of politics. They need to understand that the problems in our country are complex, and there’s more than one side to any story. It’s also important to teach them about how they can get involved and make a difference, whether it be by voting or working on a specific issue that matters to them.
National political news can often become captivating for young kids and their parents, but it’s important to keep in mind that the media is not representative of what’s really happening.