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When to Teach Your Kids About Elections

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Teaching your kids about elections is an important job as a parent, but when is the right time to do it? Continue reading to find out when you should start discussing elections with your kids as well as how to go about it.

Election Season

With the 2018 midterm elections rapidly approaching, chances are your kids have seen or heard something about them, whether on TV, the radio or the internet. And don't forget those billboards and yard signs!

However, even though they see and hear many different things about elections, most kids probably don't understand them all that well. That's where you come in! Below you'll find a handy guide that explains when and how to teach your kids about the importance of elections.

casting a vote

Timing Is Everything

If you're like most parents, you'd probably agree that it can be hard to know exactly when to discuss elections with your kids. You want them to understand their significance in our country, but you don't want the information to go over their heads. For these reasons, timing is important.

The late elementary to middle school years are typically a good time to approach your kids with a lesson about elections and how they work. By this time, kids usually have a pretty solid grasp of basic civics concepts and start to become curious about more advanced ones, such as elections. Your kids may even begin to ask questions about them, especially when they see and hear things about them on a regular basis.

It's crucial to explain to your kids that elections are very important and that voting is a right that gives U.S. citizens a say in how our country is run. Further, if kids understand and appreciate the principles of elections at a younger age, they may be more likely to get out and vote when they're old enough. Now that we've discussed when to teach your kids about elections, let's take a look at how to go about it.

parent talking to kid

Tips for Parents

Unless you're a government teacher (kudos if you are!), it can be tricky to know how to explain elections to your kids. Here are some tips that should make it fairly simple to start teaching them the basics.

1. Introduce the Concept of Democracy

In order to understand elections, it makes sense to know why they exist. Explain to your kids that the U.S. is a democracy, which is a type of government that gives citizens the right to vote in elections that decide who will run our country. It can be helpful to explain that not all countries are democracies and that not all people have the right to vote. You might also want to mention that when our country was first founded, voting was denied to many people because of their gender, ethnicity or lack of wealth and that laws were eventually created to change that injustice.

democracy

2. Touch on the Types of Elections

As mentioned earlier, you want your kids to understand elections, but you don't want to overwhelm them with information. It's a good idea to touch on the different types of elections, but not in too much detail. Explain that presidential elections, which determine our president, take place every four years in November, while midterm elections, which determine many members of Congress (our country's law-making, legislative body), take place in between presidential elections (hence, the word ''midterm''). However, elections are also held for certain members of Congress during presidential election years. Local and state elections determine officials such as mayors, governors and judges, and can take place in any year.

voting at the polls

3. Describe How Voting Works & Stress Its Importance

Kids are usually eager to learn how voting works. First, explain that in order to vote, a person must be a legal U.S. citizen who is at least 18 years old and a registered voter. On Election Day, voters head to polling stations, or designated voting locations, to cast their votes on an electronic or a paper ballot. This process is kept confidential so that no one can see how someone else votes. If a voter can't make it to a polling station, he or she can fill out an absentee ballot at home and drop it off at, or mail it to, a designated location.

As stated earlier, it's crucial to stress the importance of voting so that kids appreciate its value from a young age. Remind your kids that voting is essentially a person's voice and that people probably shouldn't complain about the state of government if they don't vote. You may want to mention that during the 2016 presidential election, only around 58% of registered voters exercised their right and responsibility to vote. If people want their voices heard, they need to get out and vote in elections!

If you'd like to have access to engaging online courses covering the topics we discussed here and more, consider a Study.com subscription today!

By Erin Riskey
October 2018
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