Discuss: Children and Election Night

Photo of President-elect Obama walking and holding the hand of his daughter Sasha before his acceptance speech. Photo by Reuters.

Did you involve your child(ren) in the elections yesterday?

Our 4-year-old daughter watched TV for the first time last night, staying up an hour past bedtime (we’re in California) to watch John McCain and Barack Obama give their speeches.

We haven’t discussed politics with her. We own no toddler campaign shirts. But she knows I work on a local initiative or candidacy every election cycle and she has accompanied us to our polling place for the last few elections. She knows how our leaders are chosen and that they make rules everyone must follow.

So, during the speeches, I explained why these two men were talking to us, and I reworded some of what they were saying. Mostly, she was entranced by the crowds of cheering and crying people.

Mom and Dad were telling her this amorphous, intangible thing was important, but wow, look at all those people. It must be important.

I had her watching because she’s 4-years-old and has the potential to remember the first black president being elected. Regardless of political viewpoint, it’s an historic moment, a teaching moment.

Sure, people choosing a new leader is important enough, but should I explain more? What followed was a kludgy, unscripted exchange wherein I explained how America was started by white people who took black people from Africa, threw them on boats, treated them like something to be owned, made them work, broke up families and were “mean.”

She didn’t ask any questions, but acknowledged understanding. Toddlers seem to assimilate such information without concern. Bad stuff happened a long time ago? Oh. Okay. Thanks for sharing. Wait, what, you say there’s a monster under my bed right now? Papa!!!

There were two moments when she felt connected to the evening. First, when Obama’s two daughters were on screen. And second, when she asked where Obama was and my wife said, “In Chicago, which is near the Great Lakes.” My daughter responded with, “Oh, where Paddle-to-the-Sea was.”

Wow, I read her that book 8 months ago (in a subtle attempt to persuade my wife that Holling would be a good name for our unborn son — the author’s name is Holling C. Holling). Anyhow, it’s a story thick with history and verbiage better suited to fifth graders. If she’s recalling geography from that book, she might remember last night years from now.

Hey, so, where is your family at? Do you take your toddler to the polls? Ever tried explaining voting? Attend a rally? Watch TV together last night?

P.S. I’ve sat on a parenting link because I said I wouldn’t write another political post, but here I am, so hey, photos of Obama’s family.


13 Responses to “Discuss: Children and Election Night”

  1. RobMonroe says:

    Our daughter is too young (16 months) to really have these types of conversations, but she has been to the polls three times in her short life! I am currently trying to secure tickets to the Inauguration, because I beleive that even if she would not remember it, I would be a bad parent for not taking her based on where I live. (I’m about 15 minutes from the White House)

    I’m glad to hear that you included your daughter. I’m sure that she will remember the evening, even if she does not remember why. She will remember the time together, the explaination of history – and the staying up way late to learn!

    November 5th, 2008 at 5:58 am

  2. Chic Momma says:

    We took my 2 year son to the polls with us, because I want him to be exposed to the process. Of course, he didn’t know what we were doing, but he did grasp the concept that Daddy was making a choice in the voting booth. In a otherwise quiet polling room, you could hear my son exclaim from the booth “Daddy pick this one!”

    We told him that we were choosing a new president along with other government leaders, but how do you explain the concept of The President to a toddler?

    We live in PA, so had he been older, I don’t know that I would let him stay up to past midnight to see Obama give his speech, but I certainly did and was struck by the historic significance to the evening. I think that your daughter will definitely remember such a big event, especially since TV is a rarity in your household.

    November 5th, 2008 at 5:58 am

  3. Stephanie says:

    We took our 19 month old daughter to the polls with us. I think she was just fascinated by all the people! She joined us for the primaries, but someday we’ll tell her about this election and just how important and exciting it was. I’ve never seen people so excited to vote (and I work in Washington, DC). And I must say, the city is walking with a little more pep in their step and smiles on their faces.

    November 5th, 2008 at 6:01 am

  4. Tim says:

    I talked to my three-year old son about the election and used campaign signs to reinforce his ABC’s.

    I considered taking him and my 18-month old daughter to the polls yesterday, but changed my mind at the last minute. Turns out to have been a good thing, as I ended up waiting over an hour in line.

    See also:


    November 5th, 2008 at 6:36 am

  5. Katrina says:

    Being in Ohio there has been no shortage of advertising, canvasing, polling, etc. So, our 3yo recognized both candidates. We were very intentional about watching what we could on C-SPAN to avoid the commentary that came with the debates, etc.
    I took her with me to vote in the primary (luckily I bumped into a neighbor who ended up entertaining her while I was actually in the booth) and attempted to explain what it means to vote.
    We opted for voting absentee in the actual election because we now have a 6 month old as well and thought that would be too much given the likelihood that the polls would be crazy here in OH.
    We all watched the returns together last night. I think it is important to teach our kids early how important it is to exercise the rights bestowed in our beloved democracy.
    Just as things like recycling become intentional parts of our everyday lives, educating ourselves about the issues/candidates and making careful, informed choices need to be modeled for our children from an early age.

    November 5th, 2008 at 7:23 am

  6. kristina says:

    I took my 5 y/o to an Obama rally. He also went with me to vote in the primary election. We speak a lot about politics, especially since McCain is from AZ.

    November 5th, 2008 at 8:25 am

  7. Sara says:

    My hubby took our 2.5-y-o son to the polls with him in the morning, and then I went later to vote by myself. Our son loved that he got an “I Voted” sticker. I didn’t bring along our 4-week-old daughter with me when I went. Although I look forward to telling her later that the very first thing I did all by myself after she was born was to vote. Our son could recognize both candidates months ago, and we have talked a little bit about voting (he pronounces it boating, which is totally cute) and how it is important to vote.

    November 5th, 2008 at 8:50 am

  8. Ninj4g1rl says:

    My partner and I took our 9 month old with us to the polls. It was a 2 hour wait and most of the time he demanded that one of us hold him. Thankfully we had very nice people in line with us and they were happy to play some peekaboo and smile at the little one. I snapped some pictures to put in his scrapbook of him and daddy standing in front of the polling place. We also took him with us to an election party last night although we did leave about 10 minutes before the big numbers came in that decided the win. He won’t remember but we will and we can tell him the story.
    We know he won’t remeber

    November 5th, 2008 at 9:23 am

  9. Christy says:

    My husband and I took our 3 year old to the polls with us yesterday morning. She sat in her stroller and colored her princess coloring book while hubs and I sat at our table and colored in our ballots.

    Afterwards, she said “I voted for a horse!”

    Living in Michigan, we made her go to bed at a somewhat normal hour last night, despite having a house full of folks for our watch party. After I saw both McCain and Obama speak, our guests lieft and I went upstairs. I wanted to wake her and tell her that “Obama Rocks” won (that’s what she calls him), but I decided to settle for a kiss and a squeeze.

    Today, we’ve talked about who “won” and who “lost”. Though she does not fully understand, I want to use every opportunity to teach her something that she can understand.

    And wow, AJ. I’m impressed that you approached the subject of slavery with your daughter. That takes guts to tackle, and I’m impressed that she responded so well. Kudos to you.

    November 5th, 2008 at 9:23 am

  10. Summer says:

    Our daughter is 3 and a half. Coming from a family who holds strong political views on both ends of the spectrum, our daughter knew each of the candidates. While my mom tried to convince her to vote for John McCain, she said she’d rather Hilary and Sarah Palin win because they were girls. (Two bad there wasn’t a ticket for them). She knows each of the candidates running and in their preschool they actually had them vote in a mock election using stuffed animals. She told me that Barack Obama was the seal and John McCain was the giraffe and that she decided to vote for the seal (Barack Obama). She told my husband she couldn’t vote for John McCain because she is only three years old. lol

    I think its good to teach kids about politics… for a while our daughter was saying, Grandma and I don’t like Barack Obama we like John McCain. (obviously influenced by Grandma) But my husband spent a lot of time making it clear to her that its not nice to “not like” anybody. And that we can like and disklike things they say or stand for, but we cannot dislike them as a person. And that we can vote for whoever we want to. It was an historic night.

    That being said I hope you also explained to your daughter that “white people” are not all bad and times have changed and mean people exist in all races. Toddlers are extremely impressionable.

    November 5th, 2008 at 9:53 am

  11. AJ says:

    “How do you explain the concept of The President to a toddler?”

    Laws are rules we must follow, like stopping at a stop sign or not hitting people. We vote for people to make rules for our city, and for our state and for the whole USA. (“The USA” is our consistent term for our country.) Today we voted for who we think should be the person who makes the rules for the whole USA.

    Yeah, horribly inaccurate, but it suffices for a toddler.

    Here’s a WTF moment… Costco had been selling a “Barack” picture book, but it boxed them up and shipped them away before 10 a.m. today. I guess they’re moving in their holiday stock, but wow, they removed a product at the moment it would sell best.


    November 5th, 2008 at 1:13 pm

  12. Marie says:

    Our daughter is 21 months. We are in a state that does mail voting only, so she didn’t go to the polls with us, but she did sit in my lap at the kitchen table coloring her own mock ballot while her dad and I filled ours out and did our research.

    She came to the election party we went to last night, and even though it was a couple hours past her bed time, she had a grand time celebrating. She had her own little wine glass to toast with as champagne was poured, and she heard the speeches.

    I took her to an Obama rally in February, so she could hear him speak. We couldn’t see him, and only stayed for part of it as it was REALLY cold, but I wanted her to be able to say that she was a witness to this kind of history.

    November 5th, 2008 at 1:42 pm

  13. LiteralDan says:

    We took our 4.5 YO son and 21MO daughter with us to vote, as we did back in February. Since we’ve been so involved in this election cycle, like most people, I’ve felt the need to explain things as best I can to my son. Who knows what has stuck with any kind of accurate meaning?

    As for my daughter, she became infatuated with Obama’s name (as evidenced at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_QfFtFiVuM) many months ago and never looked back. She also learned “Jonnacane” all by herself, but she never seemed to find it quite as amusing.

    November 8th, 2008 at 7:16 pm

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