The next generation will face massive environmental challenges through no fault of their own, but how can we prepare kids for climate change without scaring them?
We are in the midst of a climate emergency. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2018 that we only have 12 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45%. Many scientist believe if we fail (and emissions keep increasing not decreasing) then we are on track to reach a ‘point of no return’. Some scientists claim we’ve even less time than to stop runaway global warming.
It’s a bleak outlook, and certainly not the future we want for the next generation, but it’s a tough topic that we have to address with our kids. It’s important to be honest about what climate change means, and – crucially – what can be done to help improve the situation.
But if the harsh realities of climate change are enough to give you anxiety, imagine the impact they might have on a child. Here are some tips to help your kids understand the climate crisis – without scaring them.
1. Let them set the pace
Some kids will have heard about climate change and will have questions, others may know that the topic is something scary and will want to avoid it. Some might seem completely disinterested in the subject, while others may be quietly pondering it internally. Consider your child’s personality before broaching the topic. Kids that seem reticent to discuss climate change might need some gentle coaxing, but don’t force the issue.
2. Start small
Climate change is a huge, unruly beast, so start with small, tangible aspects. Where does water come from? What helps plants live, and what’s their relationship with CO2? And so on.
3. Be honest but focus on the positives
You won’t be doing your child any favours by sheltering them from the realities of climate change, but make sure you approach the issue optimistically. Explain what the problems are, and counteract them with examples of positive action and the people that are making a difference. This is crucial to feel hope moving forward.
4. Know the facts
Kids have an uncanny ability to ask the most leftfield questions, so come armed with the facts of climate change. Or if you don’t know the answer to something, suggest learning about it together – this can help soften the scary ‘adultness’ of the topic. Again, be mindful of the way you impart any facts or statistics, and be cautious about giving yes or no answers – instead, help them develop the critical thinking skills they’ll need to assess any climate claims they might encounter.
5. Avoid polarising rhetoric
Be careful not to stray into ‘us’ versus ‘them’ territory, as this can compound any anxiety your child may already have around climate change. Instead, focus on what the community / country / world is doing as a whole. There is hope as the solutions are out there already and this is really important to remember.
6. Understand their underlying fears
Kids take a far more simplistic view of the world than adults, so when we tell them that the planet is in danger, they’ll think ‘What will happen to mummy and daddy?’ or ‘Who will take care of me in the future?’ Address these underlying worries first and they’ll be more receptive to other aspects of the conversation, such as the good things they can do to help.
7. Be a role model
If you tell your child it’s important to reuse plastic bags, buy less stuff or to only use the car if it’s really necessary, then you have to stick by that. It can be confusing for a child to see their parent doing things that they interpret as hurting the planet – and by extension, them. Here’s a list of the top ten ways to combat climate change if you are looking for inspiration
8. Encourage them to take action
It’s important that children don’t feel helpless, so empower them to make change. Whether that’s by planting a tree, sorting the recycling or writing a letter to their MP, encouraging your child to do something imparts hope and set the groundwork for future advocacy. The school climate strikes made famous by Greta Thunberg are a peaceful force for change and increasingly supported by teachers, scientists and other professionals.
9. Give them extra learning resources
Books and games can be a really helpful way of getting the topic of climate change into your child’s orbit, giving them the opportunity to reflect on it in their own time, and coming up with questions that are important to them. The Tantrum that Saved the World by Megan Herbert and Michael E. Mann, for example, is a beautifully-illustrated, carbon-neutral children’s book that will help them understand the warming world. NASA also has a great selection of fun and educational climate-focused kids’ games. Just make sure you review any books and games beforehand to make sure they’re appropriate for your child. One Home’s list of books on climate change is also a handy resource.
10. Help them appreciate the natural world
The best way to encourage children to care about the environment is to help them value it in the first place. Watch a nature documentary together, go to the beach or visit a wildlife centre. Make being outside fun and enjoyable so they’ll want to protect their beautiful natural world.
We would love to hear your comments and stories about the issues raised in this article:
- Comment below or on our Facebook page
This information is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.