For young children, hearing talk of climate change and damage to the environment can be interesting but also frightening.
For parents, it’s a challenge to know how much to say without worrying them. No one wants their child to grow up ignorant of environmental concerns.
How can you strike the right balance?
With Greta Thunberg as a role model, lots of children have recently gone on strike from schools across the globe. It’s been big news, widely covered in the media, and has got lots of children worried about the state of the planet.
Greta said at the World Economic Forum this year;
Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act, I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.
For older children and adults, these inspiring words are a call to action and a kick at politicians and world leaders to spur them into action.
But for much younger children, limited in understanding and experience, there is still room for messages of hope.
A positive approach to environmentalism is essential.
What are the Big Environmental Worries?
There are countless issues that need rapid action to reduce the damage being done to the planet.
· Creation and disposal of rubbish: This includes improving recycling rates and looking at our consumerist society. It involves questioning the materials items are made from and if they decompose over time.
· Overpopulation: The UN predicts the world population will grow to over 10 billion by 2100.
· Deforestation: Much of the deforestation we see is because of land clearance for cattle ranches.
· Water Pollution: This includes fresh and sea waters.
· Change of climate: Just a small change in temperature leads to huge changes in weather patterns and increased flooding risk for low-lying areas.
· Loss of biodiversity: The UN reports that 1 million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.
Don’t Try to Hide the Truth about the Environment
It is tempting to turn the news off when your child enters the room, but this stops them from learning about the world around them. Children are likely to hear confusing stories from other children and can easily become frightened.
Instead of avoiding talking about the environment, look for opportunities to talk.
Whilst significant changes need to be made, it is important that young children don’t feel they are doomed on a dying planet. When you talk about an environmental issue, discuss the good that can be done.
Explain to your child in simple language what an environmental issue means. Avoid using technical terms such as ‘biodiversity’ and ‘ecosystem’ until you feel they will understand what they mean.
When explaining an issue, put it into a local context the child will be familiar with. For example, with loss of biodiversity, you could discuss wildflowers or dwindling bee numbers in your local area.
Keeping things as simple as possible will help them to understand the issue at an age-appropriate level.
Practical Environmental Support
Learning about caring for the environment should be as hands-on as possible. Look for projects and events in your local area that you can help with.
· Volunteer at an organised litter pick
· Teach your child how to sort out the recycling each week
· Create a compost heap for gardening
· Try vegetarian or vegan meals
· Encourage businesses in your local area to refill water bottles
Start small and encourage your child to care about the world around them. As they grow, they can become more environmentally active.
Talk and Read About the Environment
Encourage your child to ask you questions about environmental issues. It’s okay not to have all the answers. You can look them up together and discuss what you’ve learnt.
There are lots of books and magazines available to spark discussions and raise your child’s awareness of the environment at an age-appropriate level.
Look for books that focus on positive messages and simple things that you can do at home.
Don’t Expect too Much
You might hope that your child will be keen to embrace your love of environmentalism. Then have your hopes dashed when they seem uninterested in taking any action.
Children develop their understanding over time. You can’t force them to care about the environment. Very young children can find it hard to empathise, particularly with situations outside of their limited experiences.
Final Thoughts: Fear-free Ways to Talk to Kids about the Environment
It is important that children from a young age learn to care for and respect the environment. What we don’t want to do is frighten them in the process.
But, avoiding talking about issues for fear of scaring your child can lead to confusion and concerns from mixed messages they hear on the playground and in the media.
Instead, keep your message positive and focus on local issues in child-friendly language. Look for opportunities to help in local events and praise them for their efforts, no matter how small.
Our environment is precious. It is in danger, but our message to young children can be one of hope.