Showing up to the polls on Election Day—whether you’re voting for the next President of the United States or for your local city council person—is obviously incredibly important, and something you can (and should!) share with your girl.
“Some parents think voting is way over kids’ heads—that politics has nothing to do with their world and something they will be bored by,” says Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Voting is about using your voice to stand up for what you believe in. I’m pretty sure that all of us as parents, regardless of our political leanings, want our children to grow up knowing that their thoughts and opinions matter. Plus, the candidates who are voted into office will be shaping your girl’s future—from her educational options today to her financial realities as she becomes an adult.”
So yes! You should take your child with you when you vote, but you should also talk to her about what’s happening, and why they should be excited to take part. Follow these easy suggestions to help your girl become an excited, engaged citizen—even before she’s old enough to cast her own ballot!
1. Make it personal
Before you head to the polls, talk to your girl about the candidates and how whomever is voted into office will have an effect on the things she cares about most. Does she love science and learning about outer space? Help her learn about the candidates’ feelings on the space program and science funding. If she’s into drama and dance, talk about how the candidates have a say in our national arts funding and see if either one has made statements about that. Is she really into animals? You can look up their stances on animal welfare. Does your girl dream of having her own business someday? Check out the candidate’s plans to support small business owners. Similarly, if she started a recycling club at school, discuss how the candidates feel about different environmental issues and how they say they’d address them if given the chance. You get the idea. Your girl doesn’t have to have a full background on foreign affairs (although, kudos if she does!) to be personally invested in an election and its candidates.
2. Let her know why voting is special
Having a say in how your government is run is an incredibly powerful thing and an opportunity none of us should waste. Here in the United States, every citizen over the age of 18 has the right to vote—but that isn’t the case in all countries, and it wasn’t even the case here until pretty recently. Talk to your daughter about the fact that when our country was founded, only land owners (in other words: mainly wealthy, white men) could vote. Women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920, and even then, it was incredibly difficult if not impossible for many African American, Latina, Asian American, and Native American women to vote until the 1960s. That means “group decisions” about issues that affected all the people in the country were being made without the whole group being involved. It’s like if your girl’s teacher was deciding what game all the children would play at recess, but only let the four tallest boys in the class vote. Even the youngest of children can see how that’s not fair, and why everyone should have their say.
3. Prep her for the polls
Walk her through what voting is really like. Let her know that there might be a lot of people in line and that you might have to wait a while to take your turn. Ask her to think about a book or quiet toy she’d like to bring with her so she doesn’t get bored! And make sure she knows that she can’t tell other people in line who they should or should not vote for—despite how excited she might be about her candidate. That’s considered “electioneering,” (in other words, trying to persuade people to vote for a certain candidate) which is not allowed within 100 feet of a polling place.
4. Take her with you!
On the big day, go ahead and take your girl with you to vote. Children are allowed to join their parents at the polls in all 50 states as well as in Washington, D.C., but some states have certain rules about how many children are permitted, so it’s a good idea to call your local election commission ahead of time if you’re planning on bringing more than one or two children. When you get to your confidential voting booth, fill out the ballot yourself, then have your daughter either pull the lever, push the button, or help feed your ballot into the machine (however it’s done in your area!). Playing an active role in your vote will make a more lasting impression on her and help her feel more like an active participant in the election.
5. Follow up for her future
Don’t let the teaching moment end at the polling booth! Make sure to let your girl know how the election turned out. Tell her how many people in your area showed up to vote, and how many people in your state—she’ll love knowing she was a part of something so big and important, especially if there weren’t many people at the polls when you showed up! If your favorite candidate won, sit down with her and write a card of congratulations to the winner. If your favorite candidate lost, talk to her about how voting is important anyway, because the government needs to know that there are many different opinions in our country. Then have your daughter write a letter to her candidate telling them how much she believes in them and that she still supports their ideas—and which ones in particular, even if they didn’t win the election. The point is to let your girl know that her voice counts even if she’s not old enough to vote.