How to Explain US Politics to Your Child
Politics is often seen as grown-up business, but it’s never too early to cultivate your children’s interest in how their government and laws work. High-quality children’s literature can help, especially books that explore broad concepts like justice and fairness.
You can also make politics more relatable by focusing on laws that directly affect them. For example, that pothole you both drive over each day might have been repaired by a city council using your tax dollars.
Explain the basics.
As a parent, you can help your child develop a political consciousness at any age. While their ability to understand and wrap their heads around complex concepts will change as they get older, it is never too early to introduce them to the basics of how our government works.
Begin by teaching them about the United States Constitution and how our government functions. This includes our bicameral legislative branch, which consists of the House and Senate; our executive branch, which is headed by the president who is commander in chief of the military; and our judicial branch, which is composed of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts that exercise judicial power.
Explain how a new law starts out as a bill that one member of the House or Senate introduces. This then goes to a small group of representatives or senators called a committee, where they can make changes. The bills that are approved then go to the entire House or Senate for a vote.
Make the law come alive.
As kids reach primary school age, they can start asking questions about how their local and central government works. Answering these questions and showing them how politics affects their everyday life helps make the topic more interesting.
For example, if the local council decides to spend tax dollars on repairing a pothole on your road and not on building a new playground, this is a political decision that affects your child. Explaining how this decision was made and why it is a good or bad one can help children understand the bigger picture of the world around them.
Kids of all ages should be allowed to form their own opinions and beliefs. Avoid pushing your own views on them, but also encourage them to question the opinions of others and find evidence for their own beliefs. This is how they can become informed citizens of the future. You could even take them to the polling station with you during an election to familiarise them with the process.
Introduce them to class consciousness.
As children reach elementary age, they begin to understand concrete political details and have a better grasp on the nature of elections. They also become aware of negative political messaging on television and social media. This can lead to black and white thinking, which when combined with their rudimentary understanding of the world around them leads to fearful misunderstandings.
Having these conversations with your children is essential. The more they understand, the more open-minded and mature they will be. Moreover, they will be less likely to adopt their parents’ views or be blinded by bias.
Make sure to talk about local and state politics as well as national ones. This way, your child will be able to see how policies affect things directly related to them, such as roads, schools and parks. It will also help them learn about issues like fairness and equality. You should also talk about how politicians are people with virtues and shortcomings.
Make it fun.
The idea of politics can seem a bit daunting to kids. Even if they do have an interest in current events, learning about party platforms and political debates can often feel like (gulp) homework. And it’s not uncommon for children to come home with widely varying opinions from their friends.
But talking about government and politics can help to fire up your child’s curiosity and make them more confident in their own political ideas. A good place to start is by focusing on laws that directly affect your child’s lives. For example, discussing a new law like the 5p carrier bag charge can help your child see that politics is not something that takes place in an ivory tower far away from their lives.
Then you can work up to bigger issues and demonstrate that they too can take part in political discussion, debate and decision making. You could ask them their opinion on big issues and encourage them to get involved, or point out how they can make a difference by doing small things to help the environment for example.