Teacher's Advice: Kids and Politics

Teacher’s Advice : How to talk to kids about politics


It’s been a few weeks now that campaign posters are hanging all over Montreal and that the papers are featuring articles about the political campaign. Even in some high schools, students will get a chance to vote next Monday, to see who the school would elect if they were old enough to vote. Politics have always been a complicated thing, even for adults. I have taken a Politics class in Cegep, and even though this will be my third time voting, I am still confused about how it all works.

The people seeing these posters and hearing these conversations are not just adults, but also elementary school kids: my students. And when they show up at school, they have a lot of questions, and a lot of thoughts on the matter.

I don’t think that it’s necessarily important to explain how exactly it all works to these young minds, but some of their concerns can and should be addressed. Here are 5 tricks to talk about politics with kids.



1. Don’t talk about your personal views

I know that our convictions are often very close to our heart, and that it can be hard to not give personal opinions on important subjects, like the environment or education, but you have to remember that kids hear things at home too. You can’t know what their parents and entourage are telling them: some people have very strong opinions and can be very harsh about people who don’t share the same ideas as them.

I’ve heard people say in front of their children that those who don’t take care of the environment are terrorists.

I’ve heard people say in front of their children that immigrants shouldn’t have as many rights as people born in this country.

I’ve heard people say in front of their children that homeless people shouldn’t have access to healthcare.

Regardless of what you think about these subjects, you have to remember that kids listen. And oftentimes, they understand more than they let on. If their parents told them that the most important aspect of politics is the economy, and you tell them that it’s education, or healthcare, they may side with their parents and call you a liar, or side with you and create problems at home.

When talking about politics, stay neutral, don’t give your opinion. Also, don’t forget to respect the parents’ opinions: don’t let on that you disagree if you do.


2. Talk positive

Politics can be stressful, politics can be scary, even more for kids because they don’t understand all the intricacies of the system. They can get easily overwhelmed by all that is going on.

Instead of talking about political parties, candidates with personalities that just aren’t the best, and what names this one called this other one, focus more on the issues at stake in the elections: environment, economy, education, healthcare, immigration.

In a few words, you can tell them the current state of each of these issues, and then discuss solutions to improve. Then, let ideas come from the kids. This will show you just how much they understand and will help you take the conversation in the right direction.

3. Use real-life situations

Kids often have a hard time understanding why we even have politics in the first place. Why do we have rules? Who makes these rules? Why do we have to follow these rules? What happens if we don’t?

A great way of explaining this to children is to use something they know: school!

The prime minister is like the principal, they are in charge. Then come the teachers and the school staff, which are the ministers. Followed by the parents of students, who are like members of parliament. And finally, the population, which are the students.

If the principal passes a rule, it affects everyone else. If the students want something, they either ask their parents to talk to the teacher or speak with the teachers themselves. Kids know this hierarchy, they understand it because they live it. This is a great starting point when introducing politics to your students.

4. Let them express their own ideas

Kids say funny things, but they also say very smart things. Some students may already have clear opinions about certain issues. They may tell you for which party they would vote if they could, or why they think this person would be a better prime minister than this other person.

Let them express their opinions, and don’t be too quick to point out the flaws in their judgment. After all, they are still learning.

5. Have a small election

If your students are very invested in the federal election, then why not have a small one in class. Make a ballot box and get them to vote for different parties!

With younger kids, you can also do class elections, where students run in them for classroom presidency, and discuss changes they would like to make happen during school time (less homework, more working in pairs, more free time, etc.)

In any case, I think it’s important to foster this interest that students have for politics. So many adults don’t care about these issues, and a lot of people don’t even vote during each election. Cultivating at a young age an interest for politics helps kids understand better why we do this whole hullabaloo each time, and make them excited to be able to vote in the future!



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