Though the overarching concept of citizenship might be challenging for children to grasp, you can still help them become good citizens by including them in age-appropriate activities that contribute positively to their community. Even young children can participate in a community improvement effort, such as a clean-up day at their school or the neighborhood playground. Teach them that part of being a good citizen is doing for others. Help them collect warm clothes for storm victims or pet products for the local animal shelter, for example.
Talk to your children about what it means to be a good citizen. Briefly describe voting, serving on a jury, paying taxes and following the law. Then shift the discussion to more kid-friendly concepts, since these "adult" issues won't resonate much with most kids. Emphasize things they can relate to. Describe how a neighborhood watch helps them and the neighbors and explain how kids themselves can be good citizens by helping their neighbors and not littering, for example.
Encourage your children's development as citizens by letting them participate in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, 4-H or another similar program designed to teach children strong values and responsibility. Such programs offer opportunities for children to learn about the country and its heritage and how to become good citizens. For example, older boys can work on scout merit badges related to citizenship in their community, their country and the world at large.
Show your children how to get involved in the community. Depending on their ages, watch TV news with them and discuss local issues and how they affect your family. Take them to observe discussions at city council meetings. Encourage your child to write a letter to the local newspaper editor or your congressman about an issue of importance to her. Remind her to do her part by following the rules at school, being kind and helpful to the neighbors and obeying the road markings and traffic signs when riding her bike around town.
Demonstrate through your own behavior what it means to be a good citizen. Take your child with you when you go to the voting booth. Participate as a family in community service efforts such as school maintenance projects or collection drives for the local food pantry. Encourage your children to engage friends or classmates in group projects that benefit the community, for example, serving a meal at the local senior center or writing thank you notes to military personnel on Veteran's Day. Explain that previous generations contributed in different ways, and it's important for the youngest citizens to remember and acknowledge their efforts. Encourage them to continue the legacy of civic duty.
- Ready: Citizen Corps
- Good Citizen: 100 Citizen Actions
- KidSource: How Can We Help Children Learn To Be Responsible Citizens
- Forbes: How Sandy Can Help Students Become Better Citizens
- United States Army Junior ROTC: To Motivate Young People to Be Better Citizens
- KellyBear.com: 20 Ideas for Teaching Citizenship to Children
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images