10 Things to Tell your Kids About the Presidential Election

Following the two political party conventions, you may be wondering how to explain to your shorties why the grownups are acting so … well … mean. And rude. And disrespectful. And dishonest. There’s no excusing the trash that’s bombarding our airwaves, but someone’s got to be the adult in the room and it might as well be you.

So if you’re grasping for something to say about this political season, here are a few ideas to get you started. A civics lesson for the kiddos:

1. Leaders are important. Every team needs a coach, every classroom needs a teacher, and our country needs someone to help guide us in the right direction. Choosing the right person for the job can be hard, especially when some people are rooting for one team and some are rooting for the other.

2. It’s okay to fight hard for your team and still be friends when the game is over. Like when you’re on one soccer team and your best buddy is on another, you try your hardest to win it but at the end of the day you’re both out there to have a good time and do a good job.

3. Go all out, but follow the rules. No cheating allowed! There are lines you can’t cross, even if it means the other guy takes home the trophy. (Stick to your guns here and call out the fouls as you see them, no matter which side is at fault).

4.  Country first. This isn’t a game about personalities or winners and losers, it’s about the common good. What are the principles that will lead our land to be the strongest, kindest, most equitable on earth?

5. Values matter. Take this opportunity to spell out what your family stands for and how that plays out in the bigger world. Walk the walk and practice what you preach. No one sniffs out hypocrisy like kids do, so don’t get caught holding that bag. Trust me, they’ll never let you forget it.

6.  Show them the ballot and demonstrate how it works. Explain what it means to make a choice and be counted, whether your candidate wins or not.

7. Don’t be a sore loser (or a cocky winner). I know — I, too, am tempted to threaten to move to Timbuktu if so-and-so wins, but deep down I know I won’t. Don’t be the one who’s always whining about taking your ball and going home. Can you spell p-o-o-r  s-p-o-r-t-s-m-a-n-s-h-i-p?

8.  Consider activism. If you’re passionate about one side or the other, demonstrate it. Canvas a neighborhood, volunteer to stuff envelopes or host a phone bank. Share your passion with your kids in a positive way instead of shouting at the TV screen when that other guy is speaking.

9. Speaking of shouting at the TV screen, don’t. The great thing about democracy and the First Amendment is that we’re all free to say what we think, no matter how odious or ridiculous it may be. I may disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it — respectfully and in a reasonable tone.

10. MOST IMPORTANT (and I shouldn’t even have to mention it) … VOTE! There’s nothing that compares for teaching kids about democracy in action. Bring them with you to the polls to watch and learn. If you do nothing else this November, go into that voting booth and do the one big thing our Founding Fathers fought for. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. You threw away the privilege.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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