Climate change is, by nature, a large and complex topic.
Discussing this huge issue with children can feel daunting. Here are some tips to help.
For many parents, talking to their children about what they are learning in school can be akin to pulling teeth. The classic question “what did you learn today?” can be filled with answers that vary in syllables depending on your child’s mood. I will never forget the response from my daughter on one particular day.
I asked her about her day, and she proceeded to share with me the horror she felt about the melting ice in the North Pole, how the ocean was going to take over California and New York, and how Polar Bears were losing their homes! She was distraught and I felt helpless to make it better.
There are so many difficult issues that children face today that were not part of our curriculum or conversations when many of us were growing up. Discussing these topics can be scary and challenging for many reasons, especially if you feel like you are not an expert on the subject. Here are some tips on how to talk about climate change with your kids (or nieces and nephews) that will help you feel better and help your children feel like it is not all doom and gloom.
1. Arm yourself with some education. You do not need a degree in climate sciences to have a general understanding of climate change and its never-ending list of three-letter acronyms. A good resource is the newly revamped EPA climate change website. The page is easy to navigate and if you click on the “indicators” link you can select specific subjects like Greenhouse Gasses, Oceans, Eco-Systems, and Snow and Ice to help you understand the historical impacts as well as what is happening now.
2. Ask them questions. Find out what they know already and see where they might be lacking information or have misinformation. I find that my kids tend to take in information quickly which can often leave large gaps in their understanding of the whole story. When they try to fill in the gaps on their own, children can jump to conclusions that are not always accurate.
3. Help them see the positive in the challenge. While fighting climate change can be daunting for adults as well as kids, the one thing that seemed to help my kids cope was helping them embrace the challenge of making a difference. They can raise awareness for family and friends, learn how to compost and recycle, and turn off their electronics when not in use to start!
My children had the privilege of attending a school that made climate change education part of the curriculum. Their 4th-grade teacher, Ms. G., also saw the benefits of teaching kids about such a challenging subject: “teaching kids about climate change is a great opportunity to inspire environmental wonder in children. It is important to approach climate change in a developmentally sensitive way allowing learners to build a solid foundation, to take in more complex information as they grow. Opportunity for action must follow the learning, provide students a chance to advocate about what they have learned and understand their daily actions can make a difference in the fight against climate change.”
I had the honor of being invited as a guest speaker to my children’s classes to speak about climate change. I discussed what a carbon footprint was, and how companies and people are taking actions to reduce their footprints. They loved when we discussed how a single cow’s farts and burps were emitting 30-50 gallons of methane a day. Yet the most impactful moment was when I asked one student to try and lift one of the larger tables by herself. Although she was up to challenge, she was not able to lift it alone. I then asked 10 other students to go over to the same table and see if all of them could lift it. The classroom cheered as they were all able to easily lift the table together.
This physical illustration reinforced to them that working together is what is needed to fight climate change. We all must work alongside one another to make real progress for our future.