How to talk to kids about climate change without scaring the bejesus out of them
The key is empowerment, not fear.
Let’s face it – climate change is a scary thing.
The Arctic is warming, “500-year storms” are intensifying and happening more often than ever and just this week, a study came out showing that insect populations are dying in record-breaking numbers – their own Armageddon.
It’s a lot for an adult to take in all at once, so can you imagine how news like this might impact our children?
Thankfully, as adults, we can look to innovation and transformation that is happening in the energy industry and feel buoyed by the actions being taken to combat climate change around the world. But it’s not quite as easy for kids.
To help start the conversation about our changing climate with your kids (but not totally freak them out) we’ve compiled a list of our favourite tips:
1) Arm yourself with the facts
So much misinformation about climate change swirls about us these days, it’s more important than ever to consult evidence-based science as the means to sort fact from fiction. Depending on your social circles, you may have heard grown-ups claiming climate change doesn’t exist (don’t worry, we have an article to help you with them, too).
But the fact is that the science overwhelmingly demonstrates that climate change is real—and that it is caused by humans. If you could use a quick primer on climate change science, listen to this excellent episode of the Science Vs podcast.
2) Keep it age appropriate
It can be tricky to control the messages that kids receive about climate change. All they need to do is catch a scary news story on TV or the radio to start asking questions you might not be sure how to answer. Your best bet is to keep it honest, but age appropriate.
Try to focus on the things you can do as a family to help the environment. Discuss using less, recycling, driving less, eating less meat, etc. Talk about why you make the choices you do.
As kids get old enough, start looking for appropriate volunteer opportunities. If your child has a particular interest, try to have the opportunity match it.
3) Spend time in nature and talk about your experiences
Kids will appreciate nature more if they see it in person, so try and help them cultivate a personal relationship with the forests, lakes, streams, and wildlife that live around them.
Try making hiking and camping a part of family vacations, and make efforts to get outside in the green space around your home. Help them to understand that we, as humans, are a part of a natural world and that it is our responsibility to protect the ecosystem we share with so many other species.
4) Read a book together
There are a range of books available that can help you to discuss climate change basics with your kids, all the way up to more advanced solutions. A good book can explain climate change in ways you probably won’t think of on your own. Here are some titles to consider looking for at your local library:
- The Magic School Bus And The Climate Challenge
- A Kids’ Guide to Climate Change & Global Warming: How to Take Action!
- How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming
- Mission: Planet Earth: Our World and Its Climate–and How Humans Are Changing Them
- Climate: Causes and Effects of Climate Change (Our Fragile Planet)
5) Teach your kids how to be engaged citizens
When kids—or adults, for that matter—are scared or worried, it’s crucial that they feel empowered to make change: There is no better salve for anxiety than action. Below are some concrete steps kids can take:
- Forests are an important ally in the fight against climate change. Here are some tips on how kids can help prevent deforestation.
- If they are old enough to use social media, encourage them to use it to spread awareness. Some great Instagram accounts to follow are: @youthgov, @nextgenclimate, @peoplesclimate, @james_balog, and @RainforestAlliance.
- Help your kids write a personal note to their members of Congress. This is a great civics lesson to boot!
- Measure your own carbon footprint and explore what simple changes you can make to walk the talk and reduce your own carbon footprint.
- Plant a tree! Trees are our strongest defense against climate change. Plant and nurture a tree in your backyard, school, or community garden or support initiatives to increase green space in your community.
- Invite your kids to participate in OhmHours. Taking control of their energy usage and becoming more aware of consumption can help them feel a bit more in control of their environmental footprint. One California family even uses the time to clean up their neighborhood!
If your kids are feeling sad, or angry, or paralyzed with fear—remember that action is the antidote to all those feelings of powerlessness. Kids have power. As a parent or friend to a kid in your community, you can help them develop the skills they will need and help give them a voice.