As election coverage and analysis heats up, get ready to help your kids make sense out of it all and understand the serious issues at stake. Use the presidential election to teach your kids about becoming informed citizens.

Benefits of Talking With Your Kids About Elections

1. Teach civic values. You want your kids to be happy and productive members of society. Elections are an opportunity to start conversations about individual rights and responsibilities and how they relate to the common good.

2. Provide a balanced perspective. Negative campaigning is persistent because it works. Your input presents a kinder and gentler alternative message to help kids evaluate what they see in the media.

3. Improve voter turnout. Less than half of all 18-year-old citizens are registered to vote according to Project Vote. That’s a rate 22 points lower than the general population. By getting your kids involved in the process early, you can help turn things around and make it more likely that the next generation will exercise their rights.

Steps To Take Before Election Day

1. Review the Constitution. Introduce your kids to the Constitution. While they have to wait until they’re 18 to vote, they can learn about the system and all its intricacies like the branches of government, Electoral College and amendment process.

2. Research issues. Select issues relevant to your kids. Discuss how laws to protect the environment help preserve clean air and water. Explain why students protest when budget cuts make it more difficult to attend college.

3. Collect political cartoons. Cartoons can spice up your civic lessons. Small children may enjoy the images of donkeys and elephants while teens study the effectiveness of satire.

4. Analyze campaign advertising. Point out the campaign signs posted around your neighborhood and listen to the ads on radio and television. Rate them for how much insight they provide into the candidate’s positions.

5. Hold your own debates. Let the televised debates serve as a springboard for your own events. Encourage your kids to present facts to back up their opinions and respond to challenges with civility.

6. Discuss ballot initiatives. Describe how citizens sometimes vote directly on issues such as school bonds. Your local board of elections can help you find the ballot measures coming up in your community.

7. Contact candidates. Give your kids an assignment to discover the names of their representatives in Congress and in your local government. Attend town meetings or send them an email with a question or comment.

8. Study history. Stimulate your child’s curiosity about how today’s elections compare to those of the past. Read old newspapers or interview grandparents about who they voted for.

Steps To Take on Election Day

1. Take your kids to the polling place with you. In most states, children 17 or younger can go with their parents to the polling place and even accompany them into the voting booth. Make it a festive occasion by getting up early and going out to breakfast afterwards.

2. Watch the returns together. Get caught up in the excitement of election night. You can all make your own predictions and see who comes closest to guessing the final results.

3. Learn from acceptance and concession speeches. It’s an educational experience whether your favorite candidate comes out on top or goes down in defeat. Focus on the moment when most candidates thank their volunteers and pledge to work together for the common good regardless of the outcome of the election.

Talk about politics with your kids. You’ll help them to understand why voting matters and get them eager to participate fully in the democratic system.