Many researchers and educators argue that young children are not mature enough to handle the reality of climate change, and parents are often understandably overwhelmed by the task of translating the technicalities of climate change to so young an audience. Yet young people are asking about climate change because they hear about it every day. It is an issue that not only scientists are talking about, but mainstream media is covering as well. Because climate change is a problem with clearly alarming consequences for our world, simply ignoring or glossing over the issue with young people is not the answer.
When talking to kids about climate change, it is important to remember to provide real, authentic solutions that they can be a part of, along with the tools to enact these solutions.
Although kids should understand the basic science of global warming, parents should not feel pressured to be too technical in their explanation. Here are some easy tips from the National Wildlife Federation’s Climate Classroom:
Be age appropriate. Climate change is complex, but can be explained in ways that make sense to even your youngest child. It is important to keep your explanation relevant to the appropriate developmental stages of your children. For instance, for younger children (under age 10), focus on investigation and understanding how the atmosphere works. For children over age 10, begin talking about the relationships of climate change to other natural occurrences. See the Resource box link to nwf.org to download guidelines on developmental changes in children.
Let your children guide the conversation. Try not to overwhelm them and focus on answering their questions first.
Answer questions. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the issue, but make sure you feel comfortable explaining the basics before you have the conversation. Start with educating yourself, and look for answers together when you don’t know. Visit some of these great websites for an introduction to the basics of climate change: realclimate.org, www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/f101.asp, or www.pewclimate.org/global-warming-basics/kidspage.cfm.
Diffuse fear. Global warming can be scary to young children, so remember to acknowledge their fears and then focus on practical solutions appropriate for your child. Again, for children under age 10, focus on things they can do with you at home, such as changing light bulbs or walking with you to school instead of driving. For older children, have them choose an activity that interests them, such as writing to an elected official or organizing a school or community event to address local energy policies.
Don’t burden them. Adults and families everywhere are taking steps to slow global warming; each of us (not only children) have a role to play by modeling good behavior.
Think positively. Young people are naturally optimistic. To nurture that optimism, it is important to emphasize positive attitudes in your conversations, both in describing the problem and devising solutions. Research local and national stories of young people, families, and organizations that are making changes toward solving global warming and share the stories with your children.
Invite participation. Children want to know how they can help and how they can be involved. Take advantage of this opportunity to come up with an action plan with your children or family at home, at school, or in your community. Check out the Minnesota Energy Challenge for ideas you can implement within your home or read some of the suggestions in the “Raising Green Kids” article found in this Do It Green guide.
Empower action. With the tools above, parents can teach children about climate change, demystify any previous misconceptions, and finally to empower them to be part of the solution.
ON THE WEB!
Climate Generation Global Warming 101 Curriculum for grades 3-12. Focuses on language arts and communicating climate change to young audiences. Available free for download at: climategen.org/curricula-resources
National Wildlife Federation’s Climate Classroom, climateclassroom.org
Climate Generation on MPR Radio: How to talk to kids about climate change. www.climategen.org/blog/on-mpr-morning-edition-today/
The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming, by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. Orchid Books/Scholastic, 2007.
How We Know What We Know about Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming, by Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch, Dawn Publications, 2008.
Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy,