Teaching Children About Patriotism

Young girls in open convertible in patriotic parade.
Dennis Macdonald/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Several years ago, I took my five children to a July 4 parade in a community called Riverdale not far from our home. My wife, while having strong patriotic feelings, can't handle the heat and sun of a summer parade well. We brought our lawn chairs, a cooler of cold drinks and some doughnuts and sat waiting for the parade to begin. It was fun to watch the people and visit together.

Suddenly, the sirens began and a cannon fired and the parade was underway. My daughter, who was probably about ten or eleven at the time, stood up and tugged on my shirt. "Dad, we have to stand up and take our hats off. The flag is coming."

Somehow, in her early years, she learned something about flags, respect, and patriotism. She knew instinctively that it was appropriate to take our hats off and stand at attention as the color guard marched past holding the flag.

In retrospect, it was clear to me that we had taught our children the importance of patriotism, but I think it was actually more an outgrowth of our own feelings of patriotism than it was a specific effort to teach it.

So, we have developed a list of things fathers can do to teach their children the importance of patriotism, by both direct teaching and by indirect example.

Vote. I have not missed voting in a national or local election since I was 18. There have been times I was away and had to vote by absentee ballot, but I take the responsibility to vote seriously. My wife has done the same, and I think just that simple act once or twice a year has made an impression on the children. As now four of our children have crossed the threshold into adulthood, each in turn has registered to vote within a new days of their 18th birthday.

Be involved in your community. Most frequently as part of the scouting program, we have taken our children to city council meetings, to neighborhood gatherings, to political caucuses and other places where their voices can be heard. We have written letters to elected officials, congressmen and others expressing our view. When there is an issue that concerns your family in your community, help the children write to their city or town council or to a state representative or senator. Take them to city council meetings or to a day at the State Capitol to watch their legislature in action.

Attend patriotic events. Like the Riverdale Fourth of July parade, there are often community events celebrating national pride. Concerts, plays, community celebrations and historic reenactments are available in most communities. Recently, our community held a commemoration of Lincoln's birthday with patriotic music, speeches and displays. Watch your community newsletter or your local city or town website for these kinds of events and go.

Fly the flag. Purchase an inexpensive flag kit and mount a pole on your home or in your yard, or hang a flag in a window. Then give the children assignments to \take care of the flag: put it up, take it down, fold it appropriately, clean it. Then talk about your feelings about the flag as you teach them respect.

Share patriotic media. There have been great books, music and movies over the years that help build a feeling of patriotism. A good book to start with is Lynne Cheney's America: A Patriotic Primer. Movies like 1776 and Disney's Johnny Tremain are fun to watch together with a little popcorn and lemonade. And there is a lot of patriotic music from John Denver to John Phillip Sousa to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that you can play in your home. A little dose of patriotism from books, movies and music can help build a spirit of patriotism at home.

Take vacations that involve patriotism. Visiting Philadelphia and Boston on vacation when our children were young was a remarkable opportunity to teach respect for country and history. Last year, I had a conference near Washington D.C. and we took our 15 year old son with us a couple of days early and toured historic sites, visited Arlington National Cemetery and saw the founding documents of our nation. We also drove a couple of hours and toured Gettysburg and gained a real appreciation for the Civil War era. Seeing historic sites is a good way to build feelings of patriotism.

While some may see patriotism as outdated or out of fashion, we have felt a need to pass on feelings of patriotism to our children. And as they begin their own families, we are fairly sure that the next generation of our family will have similar experiences as our children did. Patriotism helps children feel connected to something bigger than themselves and that connection is worth the effort.