Extreme weather events, a result of human-induced changes to our global climate, are happening more frequently — and they’re causing many kids to worry about the future of our planet. Find out how to help ease your child’s fears about climate change.
As a parenting coach, Rachel Duffy spends her days helping entrepreneurs and other motivated professionals develop trust, acceptance, accountability and connection within the family unit. When her 9-year-old son began expressing worries about climate change, Duffy began using the methods she shares with her clients within her own family.
“My son is a big supporter of environmental activism,” says Duffy. “He feels anxious about the permanent consequences to our planet and all living beings if we don’t eliminate the use of plastics.”
Instead of pushing the fears away, Duffy and her son embrace these anxieties and work together to manage them.
“We ask what our anxiety is trying to tell us, which requires patience. More often than not, we don’t know. Possible messages that anxiety sends us are a warning or an alarm to protect us from a perceived threat. In the case of climate change, that (anxiety) would be an appropriate message,” Duffy explains.
With extreme weather events such as the California wildfires and Winter Storm Uri in Texas, it’s understandable that children will have concerns about the current state of the environment.
“Kids want to know what they can do,” says Laura Flusche, executive director of the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). “They want to know if it’s too late or if we can somehow reverse climate change. And they want to know why adults aren’t doing more and how we got into this situation. Children are also really interested in learning about out-of-the-box solutions and using their own skills to explore ways to make a positive impact.”
Through online classes, camps and clubs housed on the Sawyer platform, an online marketplace of learning activities, MODA offers a variety of educational opportunities for kids around the country who are interested in knowing more about climate change and the environment.
“MODA believes that the most important thing we can do is empower children to turn their passions into actions,” Flusche says. “We have a special initiative underway called The Climate & Change Project, by which we are teaching, celebrating and advocating for the power of design to make a difference in the fight against climate change. Our Earth Guardians Club invites kids to join bimonthly meetings with other young climate activists to discuss issues and develop and implement action plans.”
Flusche also feels it’s imperative parents allow their children to lead the climate change conversation.
“Kids are talking about climate change at school and other places, and they have a lot to say if you’re willing to listen and have the conversation with them,” she says. “We’ve learned so much by listening to kids tell us about climate change. Ask your children what they know and what about climate change matters to them.”
In addition to education and discussion, enjoying the outdoors together as a family can help kids feel more comfortable with the environment when they view it as a whole unit.
“Spend more time in nature. It’s not only proven to soothe, but it can teach kids that they’re a part of nature,” says Katy Bowman, author of “Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More.”
“Walking the same nature path with kids over the course of time helps them understand how seasons and time changes things. Talk about changes (in nature), such as where a tree has fallen but life continues to spring around it. Show them how simple it can be to take action — and that their actions matter,” she says.
Bowman, a biomechanist who studies human movement and how it relates to health and human development, believes parents should focus on helping kids recognize what they can do about climate change as opposed to what they can’t.
“Many families teach their kids recycling and forgo single-use water bottles for reusable ones. Just don’t stop there,” says Bowman. “Our kids host an annual clothing swap with all of their friends. We adults have our own too. Learn to sew or at least repair and patch otherwise perfectly fine clothes.
“Start or join a community garden or grow something, just to remind yourself how. Take a weekly walk to gather trash from your neighborhood or favorite green space. Don’t place more emphasis on the problem than the many opportunities that can be taken by all of us each day to improve the situation.”
Duffy and her son are likewise embracing those opportunities to take action in achievable ways.
“We made a plan to reduce the carbon footprint of our family, which included composting, changing all our lights to LED bulbs and installing solar panels on our roof,” Duffy says. “We also made a commitment, as a family, to immediately reduce and eventually eliminate the use of plastic in our everyday lives. The way we got to this plan was to list all the ways in which we contribute to the emission of carbon.”
When Duffy’s son feels like he’s “too small and just a kid,” they discuss “how one person can have an enormous effect.”
“We remember that while climate change is very real, and has potentially devastating repercussions, in this very moment, we are in fact safe,” she says. “We are also not at a point of no return yet. This means we have the opportunity to act, and we can try to feel grateful that we can make an impact.”
Talking to Kids About Climate Change
Climate change is a complicated subject and can cause anxiety and fear among adults as well as children. What should parents do to help alleviate the worry? Not being afraid to discuss the issue with our kids is the first step.
1. Lean into the abstract concept, but let kids determine the pace. Follow your child’s lead and truthfully answer any questions without giving away information that hasn’t been asked.
2. Explain the process around our carbon footprint or how single-use plastic can harm the environment before talking about the bigger problem of climate change. As parents, we need to resist the urge to spill all the beans right away. It’s not because we need to hide information from our kids, but it’s because we need to respect their processing speed and ability.
3. Look for stories and books that inform children about ways they can help and show respect for our planet. Explore climate change together and look at resources that trusted sources like NASA and National Geographic provide.
4. Let the kids explore their interests and try out their suggestions. There is a good chance they’ll do research on their ideas and feel empowered to take on an issue that can feel scary to them.