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Talking With Our Kids About the Election



Because many children are learning at home and, at the same time, we are experiencing a highly contentious presidential contest, children and teens are asking tough questions about the election. Usually, children learn about elections at school, but the current COVID pandemic has forced many children and families to work from home.


As such, parents and caregivers are shouldering the responsibility of talking to their children and many are at a loss about what to say.


Keep It Simple


Children will do best when given accurate, but brief, explanations of the complex and confusing issues. It’s important to speak to them in language they will understand.

Many children want to know how elections work and why this election season is particularly difficult. Older children and teens may be ready for more involved political discussions.

Throughout this discussion and time, children need emotional support from their families. As caregivers, our job is to support the children’s feelings and provide encouragement and security so they feel safe and loved.

Here are some suggestions for how to frame these challenging conversations:

For Preschoolers:

Small children’s questions tend to be more straightforward:

· What’s an election?

· What does vote mean?

· Why are people voting?

Young children who have not yet learned about elections in school will need simple explanations about how democracy works, specifically about the presidential election.

Some examples of conversation starters include:

An election is a way to include many people in making a decision.

The election coming up right now is for deciding who will be the next president.

Each adult gets one vote. A vote is a chance to say who they think should be president.

It’s not necessary to explain the complexities of the electoral college to preschoolers. It’s fine to say, “The person with the most votes wins the election.”

Reassure your preschooler that elections are a good thing.

Sometimes people get upset about elections, especially if they feel really strongly that one person should win. But elections are important. Elections are a way for everyone to have a say in big decisions.

For Grade-Schoolers:

Children in grade school are able to discuss current events and might be ready to learn more about elections.

For example, your child might ask, “What’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans?” You might offer a simplified explanation such as, “In general, Democrats and Republicans have different ideas about what the government should be responsible for, and about people's individual freedoms.”

Other questions and conversations may be sparked by what children see on the news, in social media, or by listening to political discussions happening around them:

· Why are people so upset about voting?

· Why is this election such a big deal?

· Why do we even have elections if they cause so many problems?

Once again, remind your children that elections are a good thing.

People get upset because they have such strong feelings and opinions.

Elections are important.

Elections are a way for everyone to participate in democracy.

Give children an opportunity to develop their own opinions and ideas. Ask open-ended questions such as “What do you think about that?”

Let them know that it’s okay for people to have different opinions and model that in your family by demonstrating all the ways you listen to each other.

For Preteens and Teens:

Older children and teens may have questions about specific issues and how they are related to the election. They may want to talk about social justice or how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the election process.

You may have similar questions and doubts. Remember young people are looking to you to be supportive. It may be helpful to foster optimism about the future. It’s important to remember and convey that our country has been through hard times before and we will find our way through this.

If your preteen or teen is anxious about the outcome of the election, it might also be helpful to provide some historical context. Remind them that the United States has been having elections for a long time. Change is a process.

Most preteens and teens get their news from social media, which is a notoriously inaccurate source when it comes to politics and the 2020 election. You can help your preteens and teens develop media literacy by encouraging them to check the credibility of social media postings and candidate claims through sites like FactCheck.org and ProCon.org.

Next Steps:


If your child is asking lots of questions about politics, they may be ready to get involved as a volunteer or activist. One option is Rock the Vote, which uses music to engage teens.

· Keep checking in with your child to see how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking as we draw closer to election day.


· Invite conversation with questions like, “How are you feeling about the election coming up? Any thoughts about that?”


· Listen carefully before jumping in with explanations.


· Take a breath and say, “Tell me more about that.”


· During this election season, one of the most valuable lessons we can offer our children is modeling how to listen to each other.


Thanks and be well!


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