Since the political surprises in 2016, it seems like more people are openly engaging in politics. Citizens call their representatives more often. They hold postcard-making parties. People around the world have joined together to rally, protest, or hold vigils on the same day to show the direction they would like to see the world taking. Getting involved in politics creates empathy, forces you to think about the future, and gives you a stake in the future of your community. For these reasons, kids too can benefit from getting involved in politics at any level.
No matter what your personal politics are, you can raise civic-minded children ready to help their communities and put their ideas into the world. Here are some ways to start doing just that:
Don’t put politicians in a single category
For a while, it seemed like all federal politicians earned law degrees, worked at a firm for years, got involved in state politics, and worked their way up to federal politics. Yet not all politicians were in the debate club or the Model UN. When we make politicians out to be one type of person, we make it difficult for children to see themselves in those roles, especially if no or very few current politicians are like them. Instead, point out the politicians that make you excited or the ones who took an alternative route to their seat.
Send thank-you notes together
When a politician does something you like, work together to send them a thank-you note to show that you appreciate the choice they made. Writing these notes can show your kids that politicians are people doing a job for their constituents rather than someone who always knows the correct path forward. It can also teach the children that politicians don’t necessarily vote with their constituents for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to acknowledge when they do something you approve of. For Americans, the Jennifer Hofman’s Weekly Action Checklist has a section that highlights politicians who have done something worth applauding.
Emphasize the power of the people to make changes
While politicians have the ultimate say in some issues, it’s important for children to know the power of their voices. Tell them the importance of voting, rallies, boycotts, and communication. Take them to a city council meeting or a school board meeting and let them see how the audience interacts. If they’re older, consider letting them speak on an issue or invite their friends to show their support for an issue. When children are more engaged in their community, they care more about it. Many websites, such as 5Calls, The Loyal Opposition, and Rogan’s List, provide overviews on a variety of issues and who to contact to share your opinion.
Teach your children empathy
Multiple issues can affect a single person or family, but your kids likely won’t face every single issue. By teaching empathy for people facing other challenges, your children can understand other viewpoints and what issues they might not have known existed. They might also come to understand that the issue they care about the most is not a priority for someone else. If they can empathize and act on issues that do not affect them directly, your children will be on their way to becoming great allies.
Encourage leadership in whatever form that takes
Your children don’t need to be student body presidents or even the class president to be a leader. Maybe they are the one who creates the best games on the playground. Maybe they lead their friends in songs on the school bus. Leadership is about making good decisions, explaining that choice, and listening when others have concerns or suggestions. Your child doesn’t need to be an extrovert or planner to show others a good path forward.
Be honest about issues your children ask about or are important to you
Politics can be a dirty game sometimes, but it’s important for you to remain honest with your children. Let them ask you questions about politics or your community. Explain the different sides of a debate, even if you don’t believe that debate should even exist. If they hear about a tragedy nearby, consider their age, but let them know what happened and why it happened. Consider working together to help an organization you care about, or visit Stay Nasty America to find an organization you’d like to support.