How to talk about climate change (without scaring the kids)
At the end of August 534 wildfires were burning in our province, with 34 evacuation orders affecting 3,000 people and a further 53 evacuation alerts impacting 21,000 people. This has been a summer where every community across BC felt the impact of the fires and many of us had to stay indoors for days to cope with the smoke that made it hard to breathe and our eyes water. Scientists tell us that the wildfire emergencies we have experienced this summer – and which have caused a state of emergency in BC for the past two years – weren’t expected for decades.
But the impacts of wildfires and climate change don’t just have physical impacts. There are also very profound impacts on human psychology and well-being. If we are alarmed and overwhelmed about what’s happening (and what’s to come), imagine how our children feel. How do we talk to our children about wildfires and climate change in a way that doesn’t scare them? The key here is empowerment, not fear.
Here is our list of top tips to help start the conversation about the changing climate with your children in a way that creates a hopeful and balanced perspective.
Talk to them about it on their terms
Kids are curious about many things and may or may not have questions about the wildfires and how the world’s climates are changing. What do they want to know? What do they already know?
This is how one climate change reporter talks to her own children about the issue:
My daughter hears the phrases “global warming” and “climate change” from others, and she’s asked me what they mean. A kind of pollution, I tell her, that a lot of people are working on fixing. A problem that I’m trying to help other people work out. That satisfies her curiosity, for now. She’s heard her classmates talking about bigger wildfires and rising seas; she’s heard adults joke darkly about “the end of the world,” and it scares her. When she tells me about her fears, I don’t deny that many of the effects of climate change are scary, but I remind her that people say silly things when they’re scared, even adults. I tell her that the world isn’t going anywhere.
Keep it age appropriate
Climate change is difficult for most adults to understand and it can be rather frightening to think about, so make sure you start small when talking about climate change to young children. Try to focus on the things you can do as a family to help the environment and discuss how you can all make a contribution such as driving less, not wasting food, eating less meat etc. Children at different developmental stages will engage with issues like climate change in very different ways – click here to learn how.
Spend time in nature together
Spending time together outdoors near parks, lakes, streams and forests in your neighbourhood help build a lasting connection to nature, it creates extraordinary well-being (just remember what it feels like when you get outside for a walk, ride or run!) and it helps create a sense of perspective. By making outdoor time and play in your local green space or during camping trips a regular part of what you do as a family, help your kids understand that the natural world is beautiful and full of wonders. It also helps them understand that we too are part of the natural world and that we have a responsibility to protect the precious planet that we share with a wealth of other species.
Help them take action
One of the great antidotes to feeling scared or worried about something is empowerment. Being able to take action in a concrete way and make a difference. In this way, kids are no different to adults. We have listed some of the steps kids can take but whatever they decide to do, remember that doing it as a family or with friends is more rewarding than doing it solo. You might want to encourage older youth to use social media to amply their reach.
- Help your children send a postcard or a drawing to their local MLA or MP to highlight the issue. Getting a letter from a child is bound to get noticed!
- Volunteer to pick up garbage at a nearby park or beach, start a collection drive for recyclable items or organize a screening of an environmentally themed movie.
- Plant and nurture a tree in your backyard, school or community garden. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen for people to breathe. They also provide shelter and food for animals such as birds and squirrels.
- Spread the word about climate change by writing a letter to the editor of the local or school newspaper. The more we talk about this issue, the better.
- Encourage them to create their personal action plan for how they can reduce energy and generate less waste: eating more veggies and less meat, riding a bike or walking to school, turning off the lights, wearing a sweater instead of turning up the thermostat.
Let us know how you get on!
Image credit: BC Wildfire Service