'Four whole years?' How we explain politics to kids

NEED TO KNOW
  • Great election questions often come from our youngest citizens
  • 'What's President Obama's phone number?'
  • Explaining elections a little trickier with 'big kids'
'Four whole years?' How we explain politics to kids

"So who scored more points last night?" asked my squeeky-voiced preschooler from his carseat Wednesday morning. "Obama or Romney?"

For children -- like adults -- elections can be confusing things.

"Well, you don't get points in an election," I started to explain. "What you want is for the most people to vote for you. So whoever has the most people vote for them, that's who wins."

"Oh. Well, President Obama likes to be the president. Every day."

And our own unique kind of presidential election analysis was underway -- much as as it was in cars and kitchens across the country.

How moms and dads simplified the previous night's events depended largely on the age of their child. In my case, that meant fielding questions like "What's President Obama's phone number?" and explaining how the next election isn't for another four whole years! That's even further away than Thanksgiving!

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However, a friend with what my son would consider a "big kid" -- a first-grader -- said she woke up to find her "competitive" son claiming credit for the president's victory.

In a classroom mock election a few days earlier, he had voted for President Obama. When he saw on TV the president had in fact won, he was pretty proud of himself. "Yay! I picked right," he said. His mom corrected him a bit, explaining that "You voted the way most people voted -- that is a hard concept for a 6-year-old -- and that's why he's the winner. Now hurry up and get your shoes on."

While many families with young children weigh whether to introduce their sweet, innocent kids to the nasty game of national politics, many who do find it adds a much-needed dose of adorable silliness to the otherwise often cynical process.

The Baltimore Sun's Sarah Kickler Kelber writes that her 4-year-old tagged along to the polls yesterday and noticed a familiar word as mommy was performing her civic duty:

"Mommy, look, the bottom of the page says, 'CATS'!" I told him it said "cast" and that the next word said "ballot."

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Things don't remain soft and cuddly forever. Over on Moms Rising, a column titled "Post-Election 2012 - Teaching Kids How To Respectfully Disagree" details a Wednesday morning bus stop scene resembling something out of "Meet the Press," albeit with a lot fewer multi-syllabic words:

"It started when one very vocal boy said "I’m so mad Romney lost. I hate Obama." Then a girl chimed in: "He’s the only person in the world named 'Barack.'" Timidly, a younger boy added, "I’m glad about Obama." Then the opinions really started flying between the children, as the big yellow elementary school bus pulled up to our corner."

Author Homa Tavangar uses the pint-sized pundits' argument as a chance to look into how parents can prevent (or defuse) these adult-inspired episodes. Developing a "nuanced way of looking at issues is a skill of empathy -- seeing multiple perspectives or sides of an issue... We need to take age-appropriate steps with kids so they build up their ability to weigh various perspectives," she writes.

That's a worthwhile consideration for any parent who may want to speak in broad terms about any candidate or issue to a child who's too young to think critically beyond a very literal understanding of exactly what mom and dad tell them.

Back in our car, my son seemed pretty satisfied with the process that resulted in the president's re-election. Despite the electoral 'scoreboard' he saw on TV the night before, he now understood neither candidate scored 'points' to win this game. It's votes that count -- votes cast by lots and lots of people across the country.

Now just please don't ask about the Electoral College, buddy. The drive to school simply isn't long enough.

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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