Elections are opportunities to create new societal norms, new influences, and new messengers for our children. Who we put into office as leaders of our community, at all altitudes of government, serve as role models to normalize behavior and perpetuate cycles that can either evolve or devolve our society.
If we want to build up our community and create momentum for positive change, we need to elect leaders that adopt an ethos that supports diversity and collaboration through kind and inclusive behavior. People in positions of power begin to “norm” behavior for children because it becomes “acceptable” for the community at large. Over time, normed behavior informs what we value as a community, and therefore how we are compelled to engage with each other and act. It follows, that if kind and inclusive behaviors are “normed” in society, then the corresponding actions by community members will be based on the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Those values inspire empathy and when people are moved with a calling to help others, they become change-agents in their actions.
The cycle is illustrated below—and though it might be overly simplistic, it frames points of entry for this next generation to change our societal trajectory. Follow the green boxes to see an upward spiral of change and the red boxes to see its opposite.
Couple this frame with the actual diversity of people in leadership positions and we make the cycle more powerful. The more diverse our community leaders are, or the more our kids can see themselves in people who hold positions of power, the more accessible leadership trajectories are for our children. Research tells us that when kids can see potential pathways for themselves, they are more likely to adopt a growth mindset that will allow them to stay interested and engaged with those possibilities for themselves.
All of this is to say, that voting is a powerful way to engage people into the cycle and influence its orientation, based on who we elect to lead us. Voting in elections is one avenue for our young adults to exercise their voices, but their excitement to do so is largely contingent upon their level of exposure to civic engagement as a child. Their voices matter. Not just now when the stakes are high in a presidential election, but every year.
Below are some ideas on how to engage children in voting and community-building leading up to, and through, elections, all of which I have tried with my own children over the years (now ages 9, 11, and 14):
Leading up to Elections:
Get Creative to Get out the Vote!
Engage in age-appropriate activities with children to help them inspire others to vote through their interests and talents. Here are some ideas to engage them:
- Paint “Vote” rocks and place them all over common community areas
- Create mock skits where the kids pretend to be candidates and debate issues that they care about or ideas to make our community better (you can do this with stuffies, too). For a bonus round, have the children play the opposite view!
- Create posters or stickers for people to display, encouraging them to vote
- Write postcards or notes to people and encourage them to vote and exercise their voice in the upcoming election. While you can do this on your own, there are bigger campaigns kids can join (with adult help) to increase voter turnout in swing states
- Volunteer to help people in your community register to vote through joining an organizational effort or a campaign!
Learn More about Your World View!
Older children (5th grade and above) will start to engage in current events and form their own world views. Here are some ideas to engage them in learning more:
- Have them do their own poll on an issue (with adult help) through an email “Google Form”, social media like Instagram, interviewing people at a given location (e.g. outside of a grocery store) and see what the find.
- Tape a journalist broadcast, Public Service Announcement, or movie about an issue
- Use mobile applications to help them understand which candidates they might align with so they develop their own understanding of the issues
Attend Candidate Forums and/or Watch Candidate Debates!
Exposure to candidate debates and events will help “norm” the activity for children and is more likely to continue as they grow into adults. Use age-appropriate ways to keep them engaged in meetings, panels, and debates at local and national levels. Here are some ideas to encourage exposure:
- Create a bingo sheet on words that the child might hear as the debate goes on and have them fill out a bingo card (as they hear the word being said) for a small prize during the meeting!
- Let your children bring a sketch-book with them to the meeting and have them sketch what they see or what comes to their minds as they listen.
- Have your child ask the candidates a question, if they feel comfortable doing so!
- Ask your child to evaluate three “plus/deltas” (positive/constructive feedback) for each candidate or the event itself.
Let your Children Experience VOTING!
My children remember being late to school on voting day to vote with me and treat ourselves to hot chocolate afterwards. We wanted to make voting fun when they were old enough to remember it. Here are some ideas for actual “practice voting” but whatever you do, make it fun!
- Ask your children to help you fill out the sample ballot to make the voting easier for you. Let them ask you for your voting decision and fill out the bubble. For older children, every once in a while, ask them who is endorsing a particular Proposition or Measure (and show them where to look in the voter booklet), so that they can later remember how to do this for themselves.
- Take your kids with you to the polling station to vote and let them proudly wear the voting sticker afterwards!
- Vote for a movie night or group experience! Simulate democracy in the classroom or at home and have everyone VOTE for a jointly-decided event. If you do this in advance, allow kids to lobby for their votes so you have more to debrief later!
Track Voter Results.
For presidential elections, electoral votes are hard to understand, but a simple map with red and blue crayons can help! Here are some ideas to help your children track and understand the election results:
- For the presidential race, have your child color an electoral map as each state is decided and help them graph the electoral votes as they come in.
- Use jars and beans to help kids see percentage wins for certain measures or propositions. Have them count out the percentages from 100 beans and place them into jars with labels on what each means so that they can experientially understand the results.
- Brainstorm ways to support our community regardless of the outcome of the election. When rooting for teams, it is always hard to lose. Help kids understand that we are allowed to have our feelings, and we should think about how we can create common values and goals after the election for the things we all care about. Ask them for their ideas to make this happen.
The bottom-line is that we must ready a new army of change-agents. We need to help this next generation feel connected to each other by way of their communities and inspire them to co-create a world which values inclusion and builds momentum for a positive societal cycle of change.
Aila Malik is an author, nonprofit executive, and parent of three. Aila recently wrote a children’s book, “Mommy, Am I American?” to remind our children that to love our Country is to love ALL of its people. For more thoughts on parent activism visit www.AilaMalik.com and connect via social media (Instagram: @AilaMalikAuthor and @Franklin_Street_Globetrotters).