“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; We borrow it from our children.” — Native American proverb
Our instinct as parents is to protect our kids from the harshness of the world or from ever feeling bad. But once they are old enough to be in school and to understand a bit of the news, that may not be possible in the case of Climate Change.
You might be surprised by how much your kids already know about climate change. Children are constantly observing changes happening to our planet, and many of them are curious about how it might impact their lives. While it is important to educate your kids about the climate crisis using terms that they are familiar with, don’t feel like you need to oversimplify the topic. If you do, you may risk leaving out critical points that could help them understand what their future might look like — and how they can help prevent climate catastrophe.
Consider your child’s age.
You know your kids best, so try to make sure the level of information you’re giving them is appropriate and not too graphic or upsetting. If she’s under 8, it may be best not to broach the subject unless you have to. Instead, work toward strengthening her relationship with the environment so that when the time comes, she will have already developed a passion and appreciation for nature. Hiking, camping, canoeing, gardening, and just stopping to notice natural beauty are all great ways to enhance this relationship. Reading books about forests, oceans, plants, or animals are also great ways to foster a relationship between your child and the natural world.
The key is to find ways to relate it to their daily lives. For example, you might start by talking about the weather, which changes almost every day and can impact anything from our moods and health, to the rate at which plants grow. Simply put, climate is just a pattern of weather over a longer period of time. To illustrate this to your children, look online and compare the weather today to the weather 50 years ago: Are there any major differences you can find? Is it hotter or drier now? While it is natural for the climate to fluctuate over time, it is important to explain the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and many people/scientists think that humans are causing these changes.
Give your kids the basic facts.
We can’t always control what they may be hearing elsewhere, so it’s good to be proactive at home with the simple facts. Climate change is easier to understand with visuals. To demonstrate what drives global warming, try showing your child a picture of a greenhouse or visit an actual greenhouse. Essentially, the glass structure housing the plants traps the sunlight within that space, making it a lot hotter inside — and we are doing the same thing with our planet when we burn fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gas emissions that trap sunlight in our atmosphere, creating a hotter planet. A hotter planet means bigger storms, melting ice at the poles and rising oceans. This makes it harder for animals to find places to live.
Consider spending as much time as possible exploring the outdoors, from forests to parks to vegetable gardens. You don’t have to live near mountains or the ocean to expose your kids to nature. You can start with pollinators in the garden. Everything has a role to play here. The goal is to help the kids understand the web of relationships in nature rather than dwelling on ecological damage.
You can talk about some of the ways you are doing your part to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as reducing your family’s carbon footprint to greenhouse gas emissions. You can discuss some of the ways you can act as a family, such as recycling, reducing food waste, turning out lights in empty rooms, planting trees.
The bottom line: Be realistic about the challenges and avoid painting either an overly rosy picture, or a dark, dismal future. Your child will be able to cope with the disappointments and challenges of climate change as they mature, but you don’t have to sugarcoat it for now.
When parents focus on solutions and highlight success stories, it can fundamentally change the way children think about climate change — and what role kids see for themselves in changing the planet’s future.
Linda Eve Seth, M.Ed., SLP, is a member of MOVCA, mother, grandmother, and concerned citizen.
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