How to talk to your kids about the climate emergency



Being a parent has always been challenging; in the face of climate catastrophe and the Amazon fires, it’s never been more so. Gone are the days when we wonder whether they’ll grow up to work in publishing or architecture. Now, we wonder whether there will be a world at all. Reading another UN report on the state of the climate before sitting down to complete another jigsaw with your child feels like inhabiting two worlds. 

How can we speak to our children about the planet in ways that prepare them for scenarios we can’t even imagine? In her excellent article, How to talk to kids about climate change without scaring them, Rebecca Ruiz writes movingly about the grief of watching Blue Planet II with her 4 year old daughter. She also outlines ways to communicate a love and an understanding of nature and a sense of agency in the way it will transform in her daughter’s lifetime. 

Because openness has never been so key. Our children will have to endure the results of what we do but they may also be the ones who transform the planet - with wisdom and compassion and tolerance. Our work as parents has never been so vital. Here are ways some of us are talking to our kids about the climate crisis.

Ingrid Alice: “I started taking my 8 year old son on the school strikes when he said he was too scared to watch nature documentaries because they were so sad and we were losing so much. It broke my heart. My first reaction was to protect him from hearing more news. This didn’t work and he became more anxious by the day. Engaging with positive activism has helped him massively and he is beginning to believe he can make a difference. I try and give him happy, engaging actions to do at protests (we often take free cake to hand out, for example) and focus on positive language and prospects. I talk to him more about rewilding than deforestation. Getting involved with our local XR choir, supporting the school eco council and chalking ‘it’s not too late’ messages wherever we go is helping, too!

[Now] he associates climate change activism now with cake, fun, art and progress and this is helping mitigate the fear. That said, he hasn’t watched Attenborough yet … I may need to employ new tactics to get through that! I feel our children are already aware. They know animals are becoming extinct, they know their habitats are endangered and they know intrinsically that this is linked to the world they live in and that they are in danger too. Positive engagement and support to work towards a better future will help them cope.”

Anna Post “I’ve had these conversations many times and to me, it feels as though the most important thing for my kids, aged 8 and 11, is being able to take practical action. They’re well briefed in the basics of climate change but I gave them a lesson in effective banner making and then coached them to engage people and distribute leaflets on an Extinction Rebellion protest. It helps enormously for them to feel they are participating in the solution.”

Adam Lewis: “My 9-year-old daughter had come to five days of Extinction Rebellion with me and is quite switched on but, nine hours after watching Sir David Attenborough’s documentary, she broke down in inconsolable tears. I took a video of her crying and anyone I have shown it too has been shaken to the core. [It’s been a] powerful tool. My wife is upset with me for de-sensitising her but I disagree. I won’t share it here because I respect her anonymity but I'd upload it to send to an MP. I suggest that, if you witness someone when the penny drops, video it too.”

All children may feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty around climate change.

All children may feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty around climate change.

Carole Destre: “My 7 year old daughter and I talk about it a lot, but it’s difficult to tell her what she can do about it. I explain why we need to eat meat less often and why. We use our car once a week, I explain why we do not need it and what the effect of using petrol is. Plastic, recycling, waste, there’s so much to say. [The problem is] it’s difficult for my daughter to appreciate nature as much I do. I spent all my summers for 18 years in the Alps, hiking, and my weekends in the countryside, surrounded by animals. Nature isn’t as readily available in London which means it’s difficult to get her to understand our impact on wider world.”

Anna Josa, complementary therapist: “I became more active about the climate breakdown 6 months ago because I wanted to find a way to explain the current situation to my children, aged 5 and 8. Last April, we watched the first episode of Our Planet and it had a big impact on all of us, especially on my older son who got very anxious. I bought a couple of children’s books related to the subject to read with them and I joined a group of families who shared similar concerns. My youngest son has become pro active since, taking part in school strikes, but my oldest feels quite anxious about the subject, asking me if the planet is going to break. Treat each child differently depending on their reactions. With my older son, we introduce new information when we think he’s ready and always give him the option to get on board or not when we participate in a protest. [The most important thing] is not to transfer all your fears and worries about the future to them. It wasn’t easy for me but we all need to believe that involvement and activism will make a difference. They both now love to propose things we can do. There are so many fun, upbeat things to do; the sky is the limit!”

Damon Gameau, filmmaker: “A friend rang me on the morning the UN released its global assessment report which found that 1 million species now face extinction due to our activities. His 12-year-old son was in tears at the breakfast table, asking what could be done – and my friend wanted to know what to say to him.

My first response was to tell his son that it is OK to feel very upset and important to express those feelings – perhaps not enough of us do. But it was also important to let him know that there are millions, likely billions, of people who care deeply about his future and are becoming galvanised to invent, share and implement the solutions to this crisis.”

Eloise Rickman: “If climate change or related questions come up, then answer these in an age-appropriate way, focusing on the positive, practical solutions and the things we can do to help our environment. All children, especially anxious children, may feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty around climate change, or may pick up on your own worries and fears, so do be mindful when it comes to the kind of language you use and try and always keep things positive and practical, sharing examples of projects and people who have made a difference. As children get older, you might have discussions around the climate activism youth movement and why this is important, the science around climate change, and focus on actions which you can do together as a family such as writing to political representatives and attending family friendly marches. As with all of these topics, be guided by your own child – you know them best and will know what is appropriate for them and what is not.” 

This is an extract from an original blog post from Frida Be Mighty. Read more here.


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