I was a wide-eyed 7-year-old in 1988, trailing my parents through the crowds at a local arena along with my older and younger brothers. We weren’t there for a hockey game, though – this was a “family field trip” and we were there for a real-life lesson on voting. At the time, I was still trying to make sense of how this had anything to do with the colorful signs all over my neighbours yards, and didn’t realize how that simple trip would impact my life – but I’ve never missed voting in a provincial or federal election since the day I walked in on my 18th birthday with ID in hand to vote for the first time, and it has a lot to do with those early memories. I wasn’t the only one to feel the importance of that day – my younger brother, Eric, is now 23 and running as a candidate for the Green Party, and attributes his interest in politics to that same trip. Just as I’m passionate about getting out and voting, I’m equally convinced it’s important for us parents to involve our children in the process as much as possible.
We need to teach our kids responsible citizenship in the same way we teach them to brush their teeth
– through example and endless repetition.
(A little nagging never hurts, either. 😉 )
Here’s how (and why) to vote with your kids:
Ride in Style
- HOW: Keeping infants in carseats, slings or carriers works great. Use your parental powers of persuasion to convince toddlers and preschoolers that the stroller is the sweetest ride around.
- WHY: You’ll need at least one hand free.
Timing Is Everything
- HOW: If your kids are preschoolers or younger, pick the time of day they’re happiest – whether that’s right after or during a nap-in-the-carseat – and hit the polls. If your children are in school, PLEASE consider either voting this weekend in the advance polls so you can take them along, or waiting and going to vote after school or in the early evening on May 2nd.
- WHY: Waiting to vote during meltdown hour will make the experience memorable in a whole ‘nother way. 😉 Older kids need to SEE you vote, not just talk about it. They do what we DO, not what we say…
Forewarned is Forearmed
- HOW: Take emergency rations (cheerios, how we love thee!) and entertainment (crayons and coloring book, a few quiet toys). Make sure YOU have all your necessary ID ready and easily accessible, and that you know where you’re going before you leave the house.
- WHY: Murphy’s law of parenting says if you’re ready to wait, you won’t have to.
- HOW: Explain the rules before hand – inside voices, stay by mom/dad, etc. Depending on where you vote, they *might* have to stay a couple of feet behind you on the “white line” or some other mark when you actually vote.
- WHY: Going over expectations beforehand makes any outing smoother – and we want this one to be positive!
- HOW: When your friend/neighbour/mother-in-law offers to watch your kids at home so you can vote, politely counter-offer with an invitation to go WITH you and the kids to vote.
- WHY: You’ll have extra hands to help, and your kids will see even more trusted adults participating on election day – and you never know, maybe you’ll encourage your helpers to vote, too!
Talk, Talk, Talk
- HOW: Start now – talk about the different candidates in your community, how voting works, why it’s important. Hold mock “elections” at home – vote on what’s for dinner or dessert, which movie to watch, etc. On voting day, explain each step of the process as you go.
- WHY: As with tooth-brushing, it takes a lot of repetition and explanation to communicate the importance of voting. When children understand the concept on a small scale (yay, chocolate ice cream won tonight!) they can begin to grasp the larger scheme as well. Educating them about the process of going to vote increases the chances that when they’re eighteen, they’ll actually go and do it – because by then they aren’t going to want to listen to your advice. 😉 Give it now, while they still will.
Take Your Village
- HOW: Team up with another parent or couple, carpool, arrange a big playdate for all the kids while the adults watch the results of the vote trickle in. Offer a ride to people in your community who need one, and TALK to your fellow parents about the importance of voting while you watch the kids at the park, wait outside school, and watch the t-ball game. Don’t like conflict? Stay away from the “issues” and just try to motivate the vote.
- WHY: We’re not just cogs in a machine or parents sitting on park benches. We are Canada, and it is vital that we make our voices – ALL OF THEM – heard.
May 2, 2011
Be there. Show you care.
I’d love to hear any other tips or suggestions you might have – how do YOU involve your kids in voting? Any strategies for going to vote? Leave a comment! And if you found this post helpful, pass it on to your fellow parents, and do what you can to motivate the vote around you! Make a difference.