How to talk to kids about: Voting and the Elections

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[This article was first published on 26th October 2022, and has been updated as at 10th August 2023.] 

Malaysia’s 15th general election (GE15) may be over – but the upcoming state elections in Selangor, Penang, Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan and Terengganu show that the battle is far from done.

With the state elections slated for 12th August 2023, it raises the topic of how we as parents can, and should, highlight to our children the significance of voting, the electoral process, and our democratic rights. Our children are the next generation for our nation, and it’s our hope as parents that we raise them to be socially conscious, responsible rakyat to pave the way for a better future ahead.

If you have older kids who might be voting for the first time in the upcoming elections, our past infographic, prepared ahead of GE15, may still prove helpful. If you have younger kids at home and think that politics and preschool might not mix, think again! Here are some helpful tips on how you can introduce this subject, even to your littlest ones:

1. Illustrate the concept of voting in fun ways at home

Start by introducing the concept of voting and explaining that it’s simply a way for people to make decisions. Try engaging your child through voting games at home about something that they really care about, so that they can understand the impact of their vote. You could even explore having a vote on what to have for dessert on Monday, or what book to read for bedtime.

Better still, begin practicing democracy in your house, by choosing for a “majority wins” decision when disagreements happen. For older children, you can get them to make a speech to convince others in the family to join them on their camp, and also explain how one vote can tip the whole scale over,  highlighting how every vote matters.

  • Use math to explain results

You can even incorporate a little math lesson to explain the results of voting. Take two empty jars or a scale, and place ballot papers into each jar respectively, introducing concepts of “greater than”, and “less than” for younger kids, or getting older children to work on their subtraction skills to analyse voting outcomes. It’s a great activity for bigger family or group gatherings, and it can also be structured in a way to create the feel of a more formal voting situation. 

2. Link it to the broader picture

Once your children understand the concept of voting, it’s time to take the next step by explaining how we too, vote for the leaders of our country –  and how the leaders of our country can make decisions that affect every one of us.

Try to make it relevant to them, giving examples that they can relate to and may feel passionate about. For example, you could explain that if playgrounds and parks are important to them, then it would make sense to vote for someone that promises to maintain and build quality amenities for the public. Or if your kids are fond of the ocean and the animals in it, voting for a candidate that places importance on environmental welfare would help protect the sea creatures that they love. This essentially shows them how the policies and choices of our leaders can positively (or negatively) impact the future of our nation, and the things they care about.

  • Share your values

Share your values and explain how the candidate you are voting for supports these values. As University of Virginia professor of education and director of Youth-Nex, Nancy L. Deutsch, has said, “Talking about politics can help you communicate your values, which is a good thing.”

Your conversation may sound something like this: “In our family, we believe in racial justice, and we think that this candidate will be able to uphold racial justice in the country.” You can then go into specifics of such policies or not, depending on the age of your child.

Here are some key questions to ask before voting, that can lead to some valuable discussions with your kids:

  • Generate excitement

We can expect to see election banners and signs coming up very soon, so do remember to generate excitement as you draw attention to these signs. Point out flags and campaign posters on the way to school (car rides are great for long conversations), and whenever you’re out and about with the kids. Children feed off our vibes, and showing them the importance you place on elections is a good way to pique their interest and curiosity. 

3. Respecting others with different opinions 

From disagreements on how best to build a city of wooden blocks, to having personal favourites, children discover from an early age that we all have different preferences and beliefs. What needs to be nurtured carefully, is the idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and that they are allowed to share their ideas, even when those ideas are different from our own. Being accepting, respectful and considerate to others is a lifelong skill that we continually develop throughout our life. 

With reference to elections, explicitly highlight to your child that each candidate will have different opinions on how they would like to run the country – and that’s okay. Everyone has a right to their opinion, which is what sets the stage for discourse and progress. We can participate and have our own say by voting for our preferred candidates during elections. Explain that being respectful is a fundamental part of democracy, and when they are older, they can do their part by participating and voting in elections as well. 

4. Set an example

Of course we’ve heard this over and over again: parents need to set a good example! As the biggest influencers of our children, allow them to listen in on your discussions regarding election candidates and the policies that impact the country (they will naturally pick up on the the importance of this topic this way).  If you are volunteering in any part of the voting process, let your children know why you are doing so. Let them see you heading to the polls on the day, and point out that everyone is putting time and effort in voting, in the hopes of seeing a better future for our country. 

As founder of Curious Parenting Clementine Foxglove shared, “Talking about voting is so much more than having a few tricky conversations about elections; it’s really about how we respond and react to our kids every day”. 

Here’s to a smooth, transparent and respectful election and to a brighter future ahead for our beloved Malaysia.

Elaine is a mummy of two who moved from the financial world to become an early childhood educator. She loves travelling, books and her cup of tea to unwind after a long day of diapers, school runs and pretend play.