You know the saying, “When the pupil is ready the teacher will appear”? I had one of those moments this week.
My oldest daughter is at school now, having started reception class in September, and it’s been on my mind that she’s going to start becoming more aware of climate crisis and I’ve been thinking about how to talk to her about that. Because this kid is a worried. For months after her first fire safety drill at school we had to talk through what would happen if there was a house fire at home, so you can imagine how she’s likely to react when she hears that the planet is literally burning…
Cue the teacher.
I was something of a latecomer to podcasts, but have a player installed on my phone, and an advert popped up for NPR Life Kit. I hadn’t heard of NPR as they seem to be a US based radio station, but their podcast has podcasts to give “a little help being a human” and a big section of this was parenting. And I noticed that one of the topics was how to talk to children about climate change.
I’d really recommend listening to the podcast, because they talk to environmental experts about how they talk to their children, as well as teenager activists about how their parents talked to them about the environment.
The key tips were as follows:
Talk about your feelings about climate change
I have huge climate anxiety, so I don’t think that it would be fair to burden a four year old with that, but I do make a point of talking to my oldest daughter about how we make the planet a nice place to live. Simple things like why we recycle, how we conserve water and making sure that we turn off electronics, as well as how our garden helps the environment.
Help your children love nature
There was an architect who works on solutions to climate change in the built environment saying that she takes her daughter out into nature on hikes because she can’t defend what she hasn’t learned to love. Obviously we all want our children to care about the planet, and I’ve found that gardening with my girls has been really helpful in allowing them to understand ecology in an age appropriate way. My oldest daughter has a good understanding of why pollinators are important, how plants reproduce and why they are important. She can speak passionately about how we should look after hungry bees.
Make sure they have the basic facts about climate change
The podcast made it clear that the conversation needed to be age appropriate, and a lot of this might be offering clarity on something that your child has read and only partially understood, but at the early primary age range could be explaining about fossil fuels and how they release carbon into the atmosphere. This then empowers them to reduce their carbon footprint by walking or cycling places with you, and lets them know that there are solutions to climate change that they can get involved in such as tree planting, recycling, or at the older age ranges, campaigning.
Address their feelings and fears first
If your child becomes upset about climate change, their feelings have to come first and you need to address their pain before continuing the conversation. It’s entirely understandable that they’d be upset, let’s face it, any rational person is terrified of the climate crisis and what it will mean for the future.
Support your children in taking action
If your child wants to take action on climate change by writing to politicians, joining protests etc then support them in this as it will help them feel empowered in the face of climate anxiety. In the early years age range, for me that’s meant planting lots of plants for pollinators to help the hungry bumblebees, but this year it will involve planting native hedging in our garden. To be honest, taking action helps my anxiety as much as it helps teach my daughters about nature.
Show your children that people want change
Climate crisis is terrifying, and it’s easy to feel powerless, so it’s helpful to show that people are working for change and to feel heartened by the collective efforts that people are making. If you have older children, I think the Dear Tomorrow website would be a really useful resource to show children how much people care.
How do you talk to your children about climate crisis? What seem to be the things they want to know about?