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Baby Steps

Have you ever watched children imitate their parents? They imitate their mannerisms, facial expressions and even the way they speak or laugh. They stand the same way, walk the same way, maybe even sound alike. Sometimes when you know an adult and then meet their parent, you can see how alike they are?

Young children especially want to emulate their parents, making the period of early childhood a very influential time – a time to exhibit and instill values and priorities, a time to teach and role-model the things that are important to you as an individual, as a parent, as a family, and as a member of a culture – be that ethnic, geographic or occupation based.

How many sons or daughters do you know that have entered the same or similar trades as their parents? It is what is familiar. It is what is respected. A rancher once said when the ranch holds a branding, not only do neighboring cowboys come to help, but so do the children of the ranch. He went on to explain the roles various children performed at the branding. Being a helpful contributor to this kind of event is expected by their parents and is expected by the children. It is how children learn the ranching culture.

The same concept can be used with civic mindedness and building citizenship.

In what ways do we as parents show our children the importance of being civic minded? How can we model our values about this issue? And, being an election year, how can we capitalize on the opportunities available to us to teach these values?

The first thing to do is be sure you vote. Get registered if you are not, make sure you know where your polling place is, and go there to vote. Take your child with you. Let them go into the booth with you. This author took her daughter with her each time she voted. The child knew the importance of not speaking loudly in the booth, so once she could read she would find the name on the ballot, point to it and whisper, “This one, right, Mommy?”

Election time brings a change to a child’s environment; they can’t help but notice that things are different – the things they see each day and the way their community or neighborhood looks. Children will begin seeing candidates out sign waving, and they will see the signs and banners in people’s yards and on fences. They know something is happening and may begin to ask you questions. It’s an opportunity to tell them about elections and the power that we as voters have to determine who gets to represent us in government. This is teachable moment!

Parents can have conversations at home in front of the children about the issues and the candidates. While children may only understand some of what you say, they will understand the power of the choices adults make and the thought that goes into selecting the best leaders for our state and our country. A 6-year-old that this author knows understands that there are some people running for governor of this State. While she doesn’t understand the details of the race or the issues, she does know that they both want the same job and people vote to determine who gets the job.

If a “Kids Voting” program is available at your child’s school, make sure they are able to participate. The more experience children have with the voting process, the more comfortable they will be with it and the more likely they will vote as adults.

If you do have a favorite candidate, help out with their campaign. There are many jobs to do and most candidates and their teams welcome support. You can help by walking door-to-door, stuffing envelopes at their headquarters, or sign waving. Pick a job that feels comfortable for you and take your children with you if it’s appropriate.

Attend a fundraiser or a community event for a candidate. These are usually inexpensive, and you will meet a lot of people who also support the same candidate. Most of these events have food and music and welcome children.

Remember, voting is a privilege and part of our American culture. Our right to freedom and our right to vote has historically been won and maintained for us. Teach your children to take a role in the election process by doing so yourself. You may be surprised at all the people you will meet, and the fun you will have. And, your child will be a stronger citizen as a result.