Talking to kids about climate change | what you need to know…
The idea of talking to kids about climate change can be incredibly daunting.
As parents, many of us already carry the burden of climate change but how do we even begin to contemplate telling our kids about the legacy that we’ve created for them?
Should we even be talking to them about climate change?
How to we prepare them for the unknown?
What skills might they need in the future?
How we talk to our kids about climate change will depend on our parenting style, our own beliefs and our child’s developmental stage and personality.
I’ve come to my own conclusions based on my learning around child brain development.
With regards to research, what is most striking is that our early parenting approach is crucial in preparing our offspring for the future.
So, what can we do to help support and prepare our children for the challenges they might face?
Parenting For An Uncertain Future
We don’t know what our children will face.
It would be difficult to prepare them for every possible eventuality (although we can try).
Our future adults will need to be resilient, level-headed, problem solvers who don’t give up when things get difficult.
Currently our culture is fixated on obedience. Praise and punishment are used in many homes and schools in an attempt to control behavior.
We don’t really allow children to think for themselves, to challenge the norm or to stand up for what they believe in.
The way we choose to parent is in itself a form of activism because it offers huge potential to change our current culture and quickly.
Research shows that following a positive parenting approach is the best way to ensure good outcomes.
Parents who employ positive parenting techniques use conversations with their children to explain, empathize and maintain open dialogue concerning wants, needs and behavioral expectations. They are opposed to negative consequences and thus avoid time outs, privilege removal, physical punishments and clashes of wills. Instead, they use mild power asserting tactics and strive to find compromises and take preventative actions in order to avoid confrontations. The goal of positive parenting is for the child to develop autonomy.
Imagine a world full of resilient, grateful, level-headed adults who truly care about others.
Resilience is a person’s ability to thrive rather than to simply survive.
It allows them to be the best person that they can be.
Resilience allows us to handle challenging situations, consider difficult decisions and calm ourselves when we’re faced with tricky emotions.
All skills that I want my boys to have, especially when I consider what their future might look like.
The simplest way to raise resilient kids is to create an environment that allows for healthy development.
This means making sure that our children feel loved and safe.
This means that parenting in the early years is crucial to developing resilience in our children.
When a baby cries and is responded to with warmth by a calm adult the baby will eventually learn to regulate their own emotion and overcome their fight or flight response.
When children don’t feel safe or loved we trigger the “fight or flight” response which is what prevents children’s brain’s from developing and stops adults functioning until safety has been found.
The trouble is that as parents it’s not always easy to remain perfectly calm and in-control…especially as many of us will have been raised in a society that places obedience above all else.
Thankfully we don’t have to get it right all of the time. What’s important is how we seek to repair things when they go wrong.
So, should we be talking to kids about climate change?
I’m writing this post just a day after millions of people took part in a Global Climate Strike that was inspired by a young girl.
She sent ripples that are still crashing on shore lines around the world.
Many of the protesters where young children and whilst I believe that young kids can be involved in family friendly protests I’m less convinced about their ability to cope with all the gory details of difficult issues such as climate change.
If we consider what is required for healthy brain development then young children need to feel safe.
Giving children information about issues that are incomprehensible to most adults is not something to do lightly.
“Science shows that exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety
can have lifelong consequences by disrupting the developing architecture of the brain.”
Talking to young children about climate change
From age three until around age seven a child’s world begins to broaden, although it’s still incredibly small.
They may appear to understand a lot but more abstract global issues will be quite difficult for them to comprehend and something as scary as potential human extinction could cause them a lot of anxiety.
Avoid talking directly about climate change and instead focus your time fostering a love of nature.
Our children need to fall in love with our planet before being asked to save it.
Play outside, hike, bug hunt, bird watch, go camping, swim in the sea, collect shells and dance in the rain…enjoy the outdoors together.
Get young kids passionate about being part of a community too.
Local activism is a great place to start as it’s more directly linked to their lives.
You could try litter picking, tree-planting, wildlife spotting or volunteering at a community allotment.
Be mindful of the language you use when talking with others.
Remember, that this is about rebuilding communities rather than blaming others so avoid talking in terms of goodies and baddies. However tempting it may be!
Instead of “Let’s pick up the rubbish the naughty people dropped”… try “Let’s make our world beautiful”.
Talking to older children about climate change
Older children aged seven up until the teenage years are going to have a greater awareness of what’s going on in the world.
They’ll be able read sensationalized headlines, will overhear conversations and will probably engage in social media chat.
At this age these topics are still pretty big for kids to be dealing with.
Parents should still be mindful of the information their kids have access to.
If older children feel the need to do something then find out what matters to them, why it matters and what they want to do about it…and support them in their quest.
Talking to young people about climate change
Our teenagers are going to have a much greater understanding of the issues and are likely to want to get involved.
Support them to find their voice whether it being taking part in protests or more community based activism.
Help them to think critically about their sources of information.
Most of all, offer them support in dealing with any anxiety they might have as they awaken to the realization of what they may have to face.
Climate change books for young children
Story time is a great opportunity to spend some time talking about specific issues with children.
There are some lovely books that tackle challenging issues and they are great resources to have on your bookshelf.
Image links are affiliate but I managed to source most of ours second hand on Ebay.
How can we support children to deal with these difficult issues?
What else can we do to help our families through this?
Encourage children’s voice and ideas.
Avoid telling kids what to think.
I know this may sound obvious but it’s actually easy to do.
Issues surrounding climate change are complex and it’s possible to have several different well-meaning views that contradict each other.
Ask them how they would like to act, don’t make assumptions.
Remember that not everyone will want to use their voice to protest. Some people will prefer to write letters, plant trees or volunteer in the local community.
There is no right or wrong way to make your voice heard.
Develop Regenerative Communities
“It takes a village to raise a child”. I’ve read that quote so many times but it really is spot on.
We’re not supposed to be doing all of this on our own.
We need a supportive community around us and we in return need to offer that support to others.
Most of us aren’t lucky enough to have that support yet but that doesn’t mean that we can’t play a part in developing it.
Even something as simple as passing some of your kids outgrown clothes or toys to a family down the road or starting a nature club can make a big difference.
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” – Margaret J. Wheatley
We’re in this together.
Know your values
Live how you feel we should be living.
Treat people how you feel people should be treated.
Children learn from watching us not by listening to us talk.
You’ll have a far greater impact if you stop buying the latest mobile phones, stop supporting fast fashion, walk to work, grow your own, get involved in your community, protest, write to MPs…
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Home Education or School?
If you’ve read any of my previous posts then you’ll know that I’m a teacher turned home educating mum.
Personally I don’t feel that our education system fits with our personal parenting style or with research surrounding child brain development.
Our policy makers need to radically rethink an outdated system which is built upon shame, reward, blind obedience and labeling our young children.
If home education isn’t something you can or want to do then consider your parent/school relationship.
Respond to consultations and support schools to develop new strategies.
Most children spend the majority of their days in school so our education system is going to have a big influence on their thought processes whether we like it or not.
“The ultimate gift we can give the world is to grow our tiny humans into adult humans who are independent thinkers, compassionate doers, conscious questioners, radical innovators, and passionate peacemakers. Our world doesn’t need more adults who blindly serve the powerful because they’ve been trained to obey authority without question. Our world needs more adults who question and challenge and hold the powerful accountable.”
Take care of yourself
I admit I’ve had many a sleepless night worrying about the world our children might be living in.
But, panic achieves very little.
It’s important to recognize our own triggers and deal with our own anxieties as we’ll be much more able to support our children if we are doing OK.
Be gentle to yourself.
There’s a lot of grieving going on right now and that’s understandable.
That “mama/papa bear” urge you feel to protect your young is caused by the additional oxytocin we have as parents. It makes us particularly vulnerable to climate anxiety.
We can’t attempt to support our children in this if we’re coming from a place of absolute fear and helplessness.
So, surround yourself with like-minded people. People who make you feel like you’re not the only person who cares. People who are taking their own steps to make a difference.
Put your energy into giving your children the most secure and happy child hood that you can offer.
“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child.”
Build a bank of happy memories for your future earth warriors.
If you’d like more information about some of the topics I’ve discussed then I’d recommend watching this lecture by Psycologist Jo MacAndrews as she covers much of what research tells us about child brain development.
You can also read more about our gentle parenting approaches here.
I also feel very inspired about activism and lifestyle by following Lulu and the Hippyshake on Facebook.
What do you think is the best way to tackle talking to kids about climate change?