How to talk to your child about climate change (without freaking them out)

How to talk to your child about climate change (without freaking them out)

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (centre). AFP/Axel Heimken

Global Warming, IPCC, Mass Extinction Events, Carbon Emissions, Water Safety, Greenhouse Gasses, Food Safety, Acid Oceans, Extreme Weather Events, these are all terrifying and complex things for most adults, how do we begin to explain them to our children?

On September, 23rd, Greta Thunberg, told world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit that they had stolen her dreams and her childhood, that her generation would bear the brunt of these empty promises and that if the world leaders failed the youth in meeting the targets to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5C, they would never forgive them.

School-Strikes-for-Climate-Greta

National Geographic Kids

The last few weeks have been a real eye-opener for me. I abruptly crashed into the reality that climate change is inescapable and the world as we know it is ending. The world our children inherit from us will be a broken one, that will require a whole new approach to life to make it liveable.

This may sound melodramatic but it really is not. And we need to prepare ourselves and our kids for this FACT (not an alternative fact, not a theory, not hogwash and not even an exaggeration).

So, how do we start preparing our kids for this future?

Firstly, DO NOT start by telling them any of the above stuff I said. Holy shit that would freak them out. And rightly so. Psychologists say the way parents and teachers talk about climate change with children has an effect on their young forming psyches.

Do’s & Don’ts:

When you talk to kids about this grave subject, careful not to fall into processing your own anxiety and fears. “When we explain to elementary-school students why the sea is melting and polar bears are starving, are we truly satisfying their curiosity – or are we just sharing our won burdens of worry and responsibility?”, poses, Michelle Nijhuis, environmental and science journalist and mom.

Do not editorialise the message based on your own notions, perspective, or biases, just stick to the facts. Which means, obviously, you need to know the facts beforehand. So do some research. If you want to talk to them without freaking them out, you need to understand what is going on, what climate change is and what its effect on the planet will be. You need to be clued up, to be able to demystify and answer questions accurately.

Make sure you speak in as simple terms as possible and avoid multi-faceted concepts. Choose your words carefully so as not to overwhelm them with complex and scary facts and info. Use vocabulary and relationships that are relevant and relatable, especially for younger children. As an example, maybe don’t try to explain the atmosphere to your four years, just call it the sky and the air, or don’t talk about the polar ice caps, rather say the north pole where Santa lives.

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Children’s book “The Tantrum That Saved The World” by Megan Herbert and Michael E. Mann

A must do is to start off with something positive, like how much we love the earth, the grass, the animals, the birds, the sea and nature in general. Maybe even go for a walk outside to appreciate nature – the point of this is to get them to start thinking about what is good in the environment and to connect with the beauty and magic of nature. Ultimately we want to connect them to a world larger than their own – as children, especially young ones can be quite egotistical and insular, leaving them hard-pressed to understand the world beyond their own noses.

At the New England Aquarium in Boston, USA, they use the analogy of the Earth being covered by a blanket of heat caused by, among other things, burning fossil fuels, this heated blanket is getting thicker and thicker and hotter and hotter causing us to feel more hot and for the oceans to get warmer and warmer and weather to go weird. All this hotness is making lots of animals, plants and bugs sad, uncomfortable and sick. The trick is to trigger your child’s empathy, to connect the story back to something they already care about because this makes it much more likely for them to come to grips with this big concept.

Don’t wait for someone else to bring up climate change with your child – whether that is a teacher, a school friend, a news report, or whatever. Parents are the best people to talk to their kids about this as they know their children best – their interests, triggers and emotional intelligence – and thus know how best to explain this issue.

Do focus on the solutions, the success stories or ways to help – this will not only give your child hope, but it will also help them to see a role for themselves in changing the planet’s future.

Do not have the conversation once and never talk about it again. This is not an item on your To-Do-List to check off, this is an ongoing issue that will not be going away anytime soon, or ever really. So once you pop, you cannot stop, instead keep talking, sharing, learning, growing, thinking, solving, trying and doing.

Do be mindful of the age and temperament of your child. The younger the child, the less likely they will be to understand the finer details of climate science and the seriousness of this problem could provoke an anxiety attack in your teen. “Avoid complicated and worrying explanations that could be frightening and confusing,” says Dr Fran Walfish, a family therapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent.

Childrens-Books-About-Climate-Change

Do be honest and straightforward but don’t be oblivious to their fears and emotions. You need to soften your honesty so that you find a balance between freaking them out and explaining climate change and how the world we live in is changing.

Look out for the next post in this series about how to help your children to understand climate change and how they can fight for change.


Leigh Tayler

Leigh Tayler is a writer, a Leo, a feminist, a fan of The Walking Dead, a lover of all things unicorn and nearly succumbs to rage strokes on the daily. Oh, and she also happens to be a mother to one small feral child. She wears her heart on her sleeve and invariably tells it like it is, the good the bad and the ugly. She juggles her writing, her family, her sanity in-between a demanding career in advertising. She has no shame in sharing her harebrained and high-strung anecdotes on her experience of motherhood, no sugar coating, no gloss, just her blunt truth with a healthy side order of sarcasm. Find her on her blog, The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom.

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