Simple Parenting

Talking With Your Kids About the Presidential Election

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All of us here at ParentsTogether have kids, and if your family is anything like our families, you and your kids are hearing a lot right now about the presidential election.

In addition to daily creative questions, ParentsTogether shares tips for sparking other great kid conversations, especially on topics—like this election—that are not always easy to talk about.

If your kids have election questions, or you just want to give some context to all of the things in the news right now, we’ve got some starting points (and Bonus Qs!) for you.

Pro Tip: Your kids will be most engaged when you share your own experiences and beliefs—and when you follow your child’s lead by listening closely to what he or she says.

Conversation Starters

More In-Depth Questions

Conversation Starters

Why does our current president have to leave? Why do we need a new one?

As Americans, we elect our presidents for “terms” – and each term is four years long. Every president gets up to two terms. President Obama is finishing his second term, so he has to leave and make way for a new president.

Terms are kind of a cool part of democracy – it means that everyone agrees that we’ll change who’s in charge every once in awhile. It’s like if you had a club with your friends – you might not always want to have the same person be president.

There hasn’t always been a limit on terms – the rules changed in 1947. But there’s only one president who served more than two terms: Franklin D. Roosevelt was president from 1933 until 1945 (how many years is that?).

Q4KIDZ: Candidates often have a theme song they play on the election trail. If you were running for office, what would your theme song be? Why?

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When you vote, what are you voting for?

When we vote, we voice our opinion about who we think should be in charge. In every election, there are lots of people on the ballot running for office. Some of them—like the president and members of Congress—run our country. Other people make decisions about our schools, our cities, or our states.

By voting, we help choose the people who make decisions about the rules we all live by. This means that voting affects our family in very practical ways—like how many teachers we have in our schools, or how much money is spent on roads or playgrounds.

It’s our job to figure out which people we think will make the best decisions about the things that matter most to us.

Q4KIDZ: If you ran for office one day, what problem would you want to fix?

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Sometimes, it feels like the people running for office are angry or fighting. Why is that?

There are plenty of problems in our world that need fixing. And sometimes, those problems can make people feel frustrated or mad! Especially when other people disagree about what should be done.

The candidates running for office have many ideas about how they would like to run our country.  And, sometimes, those candidates make a lot of noise so that people will notice them and support them.

We may not always like what we hear the candidates say. That’s why it’s important to use our voices—and our votes—to support candidates who we think will do a good job.

Q4KIDZ: Is there something you care about so much that it makes you feel really excited or passionate? What is it?

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Sometimes when I hear the candidates talking, I feel worried/scared/upset.

The most important thing here is to acknowledge your child’s feelings and share your own. Our emotions help spark action, so helping kids understand what they are feeling is a powerful tool. It’s ok to feel upset by things we hear, and it’s also ok to help your child feel safer by talking about things that give you hope. For example, you could talk about the many people in your life who help take care of your kids and your community.

A good thing to keep in mind about our country is that no one person controls everything. Over 200 years ago, the people founding our country made up a set of rules —called the Constitution—about how our leaders share control.

The Constitution says that the president controls some things, Congress controls some things, and the Supreme Court controls some things. And then there are a whole bunch of people in our state who get to make decisions, too. So no matter who wins this election, we have a system called “checks and balances” to make sure everyone follows the rules.

Imagine if a teacher at your school decided to go on a field trip; most likely, other teachers and your principal would also get to be part of that decision. That’s an example of checks and balances—no one person gets to make all the decisions.

Q4KIDZ: If you were going to make a club, what rules would you have for your club?

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More In-Depth Questions

I don’t understand how (our neighbor, relative, friend) can be supporting that candidate! How can they do that?

Everyone has different experiences, and this shapes who they think would be best to lead our country. Even though we may not agree with another person’s choice, we should listen to their choice and try to understand it. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing, but it does mean being respectful.

It’s actually pretty awesome to live in a country where we all HAVE a choice. Our country has always worked to balance different views. That’s the great thing about democracy: We all have different beliefs and ideas and get to express our opinion by voting.

Q4KIDZ: Can you think of a time when you disagreed with a friend or a sibling and came up with a good way to handle it? What did you do?

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Why is it called a political “party”?

Too bad political parties don’t look like birthday parties – they usually don’t have cake!

Political Parties are called “parties” because “party” doesn’t just mean “people getting together to celebrate.” It also means “groups that people are divided into.” For example, if you went on an adventure with two of your friends, we could call you a “party of three.”

When we talk about a political “party,” we’re talking about a group of people who share ideas about how we should run our country and our government. In the United States, we have two main parties – the Democrats and Republicans. But we also have other parties, like the Green Party or the Libertarian party, which are made up of people who have different ideas than the Democrats or Republicans.

Q4KIDZ: If you started a political party for you and your friends, what would you name it?

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Do people know who you vote for?

No – who you vote for is private. But a record is kept of whether you are registered to vote and whether you voted. Anybody can see the record.

Voting used to be even more public a long time ago. It used to be that the political parties handed out ballots printed on colored paper. So people could tell right away who you were voting for, just by the color of the ballot you used. Under today’s system, who you voted for is private.

But in our country, voting is considered part of the job of being a citizen. So whether or not you vote is public for everyone to see.

Q4KIDZ: Do you think people should be able to see whether you voted? Should you be able to see who people voted for?

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How come kids can’t vote? When will I get to vote?

By law, you have to be 18 to vote in what’s called the “general election” – that’s when we hold the final vote for president in November. The voting age used to be 21, but about 45 years ago, a lot of young people fought to change the voting age to 18. Just as your parents or family take care of your home and food, when you are younger than 18, your grown-ups are supposed to look out for what’s best for you when they vote.

Who can vote has changed a lot over our country’s history. It used to be that your town or your state decided who could vote and the rules were very different from state to state. For many, many years, most of the people allowed to vote were white men who owned property or paid taxes.

But throughout our history, many citizens have fought long and hard to say: Hey! We’ve got a stake in this country, and we should be allowed to vote, too! Today, many people are still fighting for the right to vote and to make voting easier for everyone.

Q4KIDZ: At what age do you think people should be able to vote? Why?

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What conversations are you having with your kids? What questions are they asking? Tell us what approaches are working for you. We’re all learning together!

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ParentsTogether is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with the mission of helping all families and children thrive. We support families with great resources, including information about issues important to all our families – such as these election resources.

Ailen is the Managing Editor at ParentsTogether. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and two spirited boys.