They say there are three topics you should avoid in polite conversation – religion, politics and your mother-in-law. You are probably not brave enough to talk to your kids about your honest opinion of your mother-in-law but you should be brave enough to encourage your kids to talk about politics – especially during election week. It can feel like a big topic – but it’s actually pretty simple. We get to vote for politicians. Politicians make laws. (Then you get speeding tickets).
We need laws but not all laws are going to help your family. In Western Australia it is illegal to possess more than 50kgs of potatoes. In Britain it’s illegal to operate a cow while intoxicated. And in New Zealand, it is legal to wear socks with sandals. Are you okay with this? Do we need to outlaw socks and sandals? Your kids may have strong opinions on these issues and that’s one reason to chat with them about politics.
What do your children already know?
Your kids already understand heaps about political systems. One of the main political systems they are part of is their school. They have probably experienced a relief teacher coming and before she did anything else, she got the class to make up rules for everyone to follow. They then had to sign something to prove that they were going to follow the rules. Then Duncan got kicked out of class because he wrote “Duncan” on Sarah’s pencil case and that meant that he wasn’t respecting people’s property. There are three things your children probably already know about rules – that someone gets to make them, that if you break them there are consequences and that they may not always seem fair.
Some great chats you can have with your kids about politics
Voting and government
You could explain it like this – in New Zealand we get to vote for people called politicians. If those people get enough votes, they get their own chair in parliament. There are only 120 chairs up for grabs but there are more than 120 people that want a chair. It’s not even a really fancy chair. It looks kind of uncomfortable, to be honest. But the reason so many people want a chair is because if you get one, then you get to vote for laws and stuff.
The New Zealand government is made up of those 120 people. One of them is our prime minister. There are also things called parties – these are where you celebrate your birthday. Just kidding, these are groups that politicians are a part of – the party that gets the most votes in an election is in charge. (A note: We realise there’s so much more to say about the political system – add or take away information based on your kids’ ages and understanding).
Try asking your kids these questions about voting:
- Do you think it’s a good thing that we get to decide who we vote for?
- Can you think of other ways that we could choose who is in charge?
- If you are under 18, you are not allowed to vote – do you think that law makes sense?
- Do you know who Kate Sheppard was?
- Who do you think should get to make the laws for our country? Why?
Laws are like really important rules. Kids love rules! They love breaking them, complaining about them and enforcing them on their younger siblings. There are lots of reasons why we have rules for kids – to keep them safe, so they don’t hurt each other and so things are fair. Ask your children their opinion on laws by asking them these questions:
- Are there any rules in our family that you don’t like? Which ones and why?
- Do you think rules keep you safe?
- Are there any rules that you don’t understand?
- Who do you think should get to make the rules?
- Why do you think we need rules?
- How do you feel when rules seem unfair?
- If you got to break any school rule for a day, what would it be? Why?
There are lots of different ideas from different people about what will make New Zealand awesome. Politicians all have different ideas about what rules will make New Zealand safe and fair. They also don’t always agree on how much money we need to give to make this happen (this is called tax). So ask your kids some questions to kick-start a conversation about what they value and what you value as a family.
- Is it important to look after the environment?
- If someone has heaps of money and someone else doesn’t, should we make laws that make the rich person give away some of their money?
- What do you think the government spends money on?
- How much of the money you earn should you have to give to the government?
- Do we need more teachers, or less teachers?
- Should you be able to swim in all of our rivers?
- Does the Treaty of Waitangi matter?
- How much do you think the government should know about you?
- Should it be free to get an operation?
- How many cows is too many cows?
- Who do you think should pay for you to go to school?
- If you steal someone’s scooter, should you go to prison? For how long?
We don’t get to choose what laws we are going to have in our country, but we do get to choose the people who decide what laws we will have in our country. That is why understanding how elections work is important for everyone – including our kids.
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