Today is National Citizenship Day. What does that mean to you? For most of us, citizenship is kind of a hazy, passive concept that only comes up when our sense of country is challenged. These days, it seems more important than ever to define what we mean when we talk about being citizens.
Once upon a time, citizenship came with expectations of certain active responsibilities. These might include serving in the armed forces, but it could also mean contributing to the national discussion, representing a specific group of people, and upholding the values for which the nation stood.
Somewhere along the way, we all got a lazy, tending to simply go along with the loudest voice carrying a flag rather than carefully considering whether that voice truly reflected the things that are important to us.
Most of us don’t even vote anymore.
Did you know only about 33% of born American citizens know as much about our great nation as immigrants working to become citizens? Some informal studies show we know even less about our nation than citizens of other nations who have never even lived here.
Clearly, it’s important for us to teach our children about the importance of being good citizens. The best way to do that, as is often the case, is through example.
So, what is appropriate to teach your preschooler to help them grow up to be good citizens in the future?
Think about what’s important to you about our country. Ask yourself some of the important questions:
- What does being an American citizen mean to you?
- What freedoms do you have as an American citizen that you feel strongly about or depend upon?
- What protections do you rely on?
- What do you feel is your responsibility back to this nation?
Rather than just telling our children what we think, we need to show them by practicing these values in our lives. If, for example, you strongly believe in the American core value of equality, it will be important to your child to see you stand up for the rights of others.
What can this look like?
It could be as simple as a sincere thank you to the waitress at lunch after remembering her name.
It could be more complicated, such as a comment to the angry person waiting behind you in line about how tired the cashier looks and it must have been a tough day for him already.
In both cases, you’re calling attention to their humanity, acknowledging their right to be human, and showing empathy for their current position, realizing and calling attention to the fact that their humanity is equal to your own.
Your child will learn much more through example than they will through words. Show them what it means to engage in everyday actions that support the values our country stands for and they will grow up with a greater sense of responsibility toward creating the world they want to live in.