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Guest post: 'Why we need to politicise our toddlers'

43 replies

MumsnetGuestPosts · 05/01/2015 15:51

One of my favourite pictures of my children is the two of them, aged one and a half and three and a half, taken last year, holding up our polling cards outside a polling station sign. My husband and I had taken them with us when we cast our votes in the local and European elections. We explained what we were doing and how it worked, and also why we were voting the way we were. Although we cared deeply about the results – we met through our involvement in politics – the third of these was the least important, really. We mostly wanted our children to understand what democracy means, what a vote is and why exercising it is important. We wanted to completely normalise political participation so that our children do not grow up as non-voters.

People are still a bit squeamish about the idea of ‘politicising’ children. It tends to conjure up images of little girls and boys brandishing placards, like those outside the Westboro Baptist Church, used as pawns to serve their parents’ political agenda. I believe, though, that it's vitally important for us to introduce children to politics early, and that they’re never too young to start.

After all, from the moment our children are conceived their lives are influenced by politics. In the womb and during labour, every time I saw a midwife, and now, every time my children have an appointment with a doctor or receive a free prescription - they were and are benefiting from political decisions. They have had nursery provision paid for first by childcare vouchers we saved and then by the government’s free provision, they've been to free sessions at children’s centres and now, as they approach school age, we are applying for six local state primaries varying from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement.’ Their lives are political every day, and that’s before we even start thinking about the food they eat, the house they live in and the passports they own.

Our oldest is now four, and this stuff doesn't go over her head. We bought a house this year (another deeply political subject) and many of the homes we looked around were Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), with more than one family living there and sharing the kitchen and bathroom. The landlords were taking advantage of high property prices to cash in their assets. Many of these houses had whole families living in each room. "Why does that girl share a room with her mummy and daddy and why are all her clothes in a suitcase?" my daughter asked us when we left one such house. We explained, using language as age-appropriate as possible, that some people have more than others and the reasons behind this, and also why we believe there should be a more equitable distribution of resources and wealth.

I spent hours on the Baby Name talk boards when I was pregnant and - still do in fact - and as fellow lurkers and posters will know, nearly everyone wants a name fit for plumbers and Prime Ministers. Our interpretation of what that name is differs, but it suggests that we all want our children to feel able to become either, or both. Contrary to the popular belief that politicians and the rest of us are locked in an ‘us versus them’ battle, that we're a different breed, I think it's incredibly important for children to realise that politicians should represent us, in both senses of the word – they should look like the society they work on behalf of, and come from all classes, races, sexualities, genders and ages. We need to show children, from very early on, that politics isn't just something ‘other people do’ – it’s our lives.

In a bid to try and do this, I've written a picture book called The Election, for children aged around 3-7. It tells the story of two children whose families are actively campaigning for two opposing political parties. Alex's parents support the party with stripes on its posters. Evie's parents support the party with spots on its posters. But only one of these can win. It’s democracy in picture book form, as it should be in a free and tolerant society. Sure, the losing parents are annoyed. But they are also pleased to live in a system in which everyone gets a vote, and Evie and Alex remain good friends.

Most of all I hope that the children reading it enjoy the story and the illustrations, but if they also grow up thinking that voting and participation is something everyone does, and something they will do, then I'd be beyond thrilled, whichever way they vote.

You can find out more about Ellie's children's book 'The Election', here.

OP posts:
TheHoneyBadger · 05/01/2015 16:44

one has spots and one has stripes - sounds about fitting as does celebrating democracy as in 'getting to vote' even when there's nothing worth voting for.

guess this will go down well in some camps.

TheHoneyBadger · 05/01/2015 16:46

the answer to the title question really just seems to be, 'so they don't grow up to be non-voters' - is that really it or did i miss something?

Wotsitsareafterme · 05/01/2015 16:49

Book looks good. I bought the child's play book 'war and peace' for the same reason. I don't wNt the dc to be apathetic when they are older.

orangeyellowgreen · 05/01/2015 18:09

I assumed this was a joke. Isn't it?

LineRunner · 05/01/2015 18:30


SoonToBeSix · 05/01/2015 18:30

Sorry op I think it's all a bit odd.

MakeMeWarmThisWinter · 05/01/2015 18:34

I think it's a great idea. Well done OP.

I also think that suitable resources for older children are needed, especially with the likelihood of 16 and 17yos being able to vote soon.

dannydyerismydad · 05/01/2015 18:44

My mother used to take me to the polling session. She was always very forthright about the fact that women fought hard for the vote and it was my duty to use mine wisely.

She also used to dress me in a "I love Maggie" tshirt, so I can't be sure she practiced what she preached Hmm

LineRunner · 05/01/2015 18:49

I've always taken my children to the polling station and my DD and I voted together for the first time in May 2013.

I still think that blog post is wtf.

JazzAnnNonMouse · 05/01/2015 18:55

One has spots and one has stripes but they're both big cats benefitting from the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer maintaining the status quo?

I think political activism is something we have to teach our children and voting is just one way of showing this but when the choice of who to vote for is muddied and we can't distinguish the spots from the stripes maybe we need to look at that too.

Messygirl · 05/01/2015 18:55

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

justabigdisco · 05/01/2015 19:04

Lolling at explaining to a 1 year old about how and why we vote Grin

Tzibeleh · 05/01/2015 19:35

I always took my dc with me to vote, explained what I was doing and why, and emphasised how important it was.

But, because elections are always on weekdays, this had to stop once the dc were at school. So do they remember? Only vaguely.

Will that politicise my dc? Will it teach them the importance of voting, of making a considered decision? No, it won't. Because alone it means nothing.

What matters is teaching our children that their opinions matter, that they have a voice if they will use it. That, together with teaching them common decency, respect for each other, responsibility to each other, abd and understanding of the context in shich we live will be far more effective at creating a politically aware generation than simply modelling it at a very you g age and reading simplistic books.

(I wish elections were at weekends so that the children could see them in action.)

FannyFifer · 05/01/2015 19:38

My siblings and I were politically aware & active from a young age, miners strikes etc.
My children are the same, politics is a big part of myself & my families life.
Certainly from around age 3 they would be pretty interested & we could have basic chats.
The Indyref in Scotland has really really interested them & they have been actively involved at 4 & 9 in quite a lot of stuff that's been going on.
Engage them young I say. Grin

BathshebaDarkstone · 05/01/2015 19:50

I have to take my DC when I vote because their school's a polling station. I've just started explaining to DD 7 how and why you vote, because she asks. I don't believe in politicising toddlers. Hmm

Pico2 · 05/01/2015 20:12

I take my DD (4) to vote and have done at every opportunity. She was a bit confused and disappointed as she thought we were going boating. But she now knows that women weren't allowed to vote and now are. I think engaging children in the process is important.

JaneAHersey · 05/01/2015 20:21

It is a good idea to teach children values such as social justice and not fill them with class prejudice,

LineRunner · 05/01/2015 20:23

Tzibeleh, polling stations are open 7am - 10pm.

sallyst123 · 05/01/2015 20:29

I think it's a great idea. I take my kids with me when I vote & why when they get bigger it's really important that they do too.
I think the hype around the Scottish referendum really caught there imaginations to & helped to cement their understanding of the power of voting & how it gets change if really wanted.
Good luck with the book

Poofus · 05/01/2015 22:03

Do other people just have different kinds of toddlers from mine? I'd love to teach him about voting, but at the moment he's more interested in blowing bubbles in his milk and driving his toy cars over the edge of the table onto the floor.

He has been to the polling station with me, but I can't quite imagine explaining the concept of "election" when he doesn't know the meaning of the "vote", "decision", "government", "country"....

PossumPoo · 05/01/2015 22:14

I think poofus the point op was trying to make was just engage with your dc regarding voting. Sure they didn't understand bloody everything when they were born but you kept on explaining things? Hmm

In Australia you have to vote or you get fined not very democratic imo so it's like a big deal when you turn 18 and off you huff to vote, secretly a little bit excited about it.

The moaners pp who were on about the rich getting richer rah rah fucking rah. Well pull your finger out and make a change!

Having said all this l wont be wasting my energy explaining it all to dd yet as she will have to get into when she's 18 and so we will naturally discuss as it gets closer.

But so many people don't give a shit in this country and then friggen moan how shit it's all going Confused

PacificDogwood · 05/01/2015 22:19

Well, I think everybody needs to get politicised tbh and totally agree with starting it with the very young.

I think talking about them how democracy works and how vitally important voting is, is the main thing.
I've sometimes taken mine to the polling station, sometimes I haven't (I do a postal vote usually), but they are well aware that I consider it a civic duty to vote.

Those who don't vote, lose the right to complain IMO.
I vote and I complain plenty Grin

HarveySchlumpfenburger · 05/01/2015 23:02

To a point Pacific. Taking children to the polling station, talking to and explaining things to older children fair enough. But toddlers... life's too short and there's plenty of other things to fill it with. Neither I nor any of my voting friends were politicised as toddlers and we seem to have turned into voting adults fine.

Think Linerunner summed it up in her first post.

Nerf · 05/01/2015 23:29

All I took away from it was the stealth boast about affording a house all to yourselves.

Tzibeleh · 06/01/2015 06:59

True, LineRunner, but for the last few years elections have always been on my Mummy Taxi days, when I am juggling getting three dc to and from three different evening activities.

This year, at last, I do not have maniacly hectic evenings, and will definitely be taking the dc with me when I go to vote. I have managed to take a dc with me most years.

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