With constant stories in the press at the moment about the environmental crisis and the word extinction now being used in everyday conversation it must be a very frightening time to be a child. I remember the threat of nuclear missiles hanging over my childhood in the 1980s, but it always seemed very abstract to me then. However, as my son lost his dad when he was four, loss, grief and fear are a reality to him when they weren't to me. So as I become more of an activist I wonder how best to talk to him about such existential threats without frightening him.
Bringing children up with a love and respect for nature will mean they will grow up understanding the need to protect it. Being outdoors creates a connection with nature and gives you the opportunity to explain certain aspects of what is happening to the environment. For instance, if you spot insects you can talk about them and explain that they used to be many more when you were their age and that the birds need them to eat and so on. Grandparents could be a good source of information on this as they will have seen many changes they can talk about. Talking about our impact through daily routines such as when you are out shopping asking your kids to choose produce that's from the UK and explain why that's important. I talk more about this in my How to raise Eco Kids blog here.
I do believe it's very important to be honest with children and the problems we face now are so vast that we should not hide it from them. For small children though the complexities of climate breakdown would be beyond their understanding, so any information must be age appropriate. You know best as a parent how much your child can take in or how much they already know and what they feel about it. Maybe start small by explaining how trees absorb CO2 and give us oxygen? Make it relatable to their interests, whether they love birds or big cats. Explaining the impacts of climate change on the animals they love or things that are happening around them will mean more to them and hold their interest. Learning the difference between the weather and climate is critical for children. It is important though to have a good understanding yourself of what you are talking about, so it's worth reading up about things first. If your child asks a question you can't answer, then be honest and maybe you can suggest you look it up together. If you are worried you can't give them enough or the correct information then find out what their school can advise or do. Environmental, wildlife charities and even natural history museums may be able to provide answers or evidence of some of the issues in an interesting way that would appeal to kids.
It is really important to make sure your kids know that they are safe but also that it's ok to feel afraid, sad or angry about things that are happening to our planet. They need to know that clever scientists have been working on these problems for many years and have told us what the solutions are and that they are many people all over the world trying fix things. Frame your conversations hopefully, even if you don't feel it, as you are their protector and they need to know we can all do something about it. There are many success stories you can share about how we can change things like rewilding projects, the growth of renewable energy and reforestation.
As Greta Thunberg said "with action comes hope". Help children to realise they are not powerless and to find their voice. Whether that is writing a letter to their school or MP .Talking to them about the school climate strikers, the sunrise movement in the US and all the other brave kids standing up for the planet will show them that they can help too. Measuring their own carbon footprint is a good way to get them started on thinking about what they can change and how things can affect the planet. Make them aware too that they haven't caused the problem and shouldn't be expected to fix it, but that we can all help and that governments and other big guys are the ones that need to do the most. Also, children learn by example so be the change you want to see in the world and they will want to be earth protectors too.
There are a few books and websites here that may help:
And my Pinterest boards on kids eco books and films are here
I know I will change the way I discuss the crisis with my son after writing this so I hope this will be useful to you and your kids too. I would love to hear your thoughts on this and any of my blog posts, so do drop me a line x
#ecokids #climatecrisis #earthprotectors
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