16 May 2017

How do you explain an election to your kids?

In the last 12 months we've had a referendum on the EU, local council elections, mayoral elections – and now we've got a General Election on June 8th.

With American and French presidential elections in the headlines too, kids are likely to start asking questions about what it all means. Explaining elections might feel almost as daunting as explaining the facts of life, but if you keep things simple, kids should quickly grasp the basics of how democracy works.

"I don't think elections are difficult for children to understand," says Ellie Levenson, journalist and author of the children's picture book The Election.

"Children get the concept of people being in charge, be it parents or teachers, and they get the concept of making choices between things, like 'Do I play with this friend or that friend?', 'Have this biscuit or that biscuit?', and it isn't a great leap to put the two together."

The Election uses two friends, Alex and Evie, to illustrate how and why we vote. The story is simple: Alex's family supports the party with stripes, while Evie's party supports the party with spots. The parents go out to campaign for their parties and the two friends ask them how it all works.

Even though only one party finally wins, the two children stay friends. Ellie says she thought this was vital to the conclusion, to get across that "tolerance and acceptance are a crucial part of democracy".

But sharing a story like this with your children is just one way you could try helping your kids understand how an election works. From a family vote for a fun day out to writing letters to your local MP, there are lots of ways you can get the kids involved in democracy.

Introduce a family vote

It wouldn't work for everything – how much pocket money they get, for example – but it makes a fun way to decide where you'll go on a family day out. You could encourage the kids to research the pros and cons of each candidate destination before putting it to a vote.

Once they get the idea of having a say on how home life is run, it's easier to understand how and why adults vote on how the country is run.

Child-friendly news

To introduce them to real politics, you could start by encouraging them to watch and read reliable news sources aimed at kids, like the CBBC show Newsround, First News and The Week Junior.

Write to an MP

If they feel strongly about an issue, you could encourage them to write to a local councillor or MP expressing how they feel and passing on their ideas for improvement. Hopefully, they should get a letter back, showing that political representatives do listen.

Take them to the polling station

On polling day itself, there's no reason not to bring the kids along to watch you mark the X and post the ballot paper in the box. 

And you don't need to stop with these ideas, you could also show them how your vote counts in other areas of life too – perhaps in the choosing of a school governor and even in deciding how your building society is run. Nationwide encourages all its members to vote on decisions at its Annual General Meeting, including the appointment of directors.

Hopefully, all this will encourage the kids to take an interest in how the world around them works, and help them have the confidence to stand up and have their say.

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