”YOU MEAN THEY PUT POISON IN OUR FOOD?!?” – He blurted out loudly with huge incredulous eyes…In the middle of a restaurant. A few people turned around, and I cleared my throat nervously, smiling reassuringly to the other diners. It was a rookie mistake to raise the subject of organic vegetables at a time like this.
Kids are just so honest and so open about their feelings and viewpoints. They are also tiny little sponges and will retain whatever we teach them or tell them – only to regurgitate it later sometimes totally out of context. Hilarity is always bound to ensue in those moments.
I’d been explaining to my 8 year old about how some farmers use pesticides on the food they grow to stop all the insects from ravaging their crops. I’d compared organic veggies to ones where pesticides had been used, and he was outraged at how people could put the pesticides on things we would later be putting into our bodies.
Children are very direct about how they feel because they haven’t been conditioned to suppress their reactions and feelings, like adults have. Tell them about pesticides and they are grossed out, tell them about climate change and they are usually absolutely horrified.
It’s that age old argument of, do we tell the children? Or do we protect them from the so-called horrors of the world?
How and when do we share these hard truths with them?
Think Age Appropriate
There is no point in worrying your child about something that they don’t understand. Wait till they’re at an age when they can understand and ask their own questions about the topic. Telling them in words they understand help too. Bringing in needless worry will do more harm than good. I used to know a child who was traumatized by a documentary they’d watched about how the sun will burn out one day, and our planet won’t survive. He couldn’t stop talking and worrying about it.
So step one is, don’t traumatize your kid.
Think of What State You Are in.
Step two is to think about how you present it to them.
Are you presenting it as all doom-and-gloom?
Or is there a hopeful silver-lining to your cloud?
What are your own feelings about it?
It’s not a great idea to tell your child about your feelings about climate change when you‘re having a crisis of faith, and are too depressed to drag yourself out of bed. Children will pick up on your energy. If you’re scared, they will sense that. Pick a time where you feel you can tell them in a factual way or even possibly take an optimistic stance.
It’s better to focus more on the steps that can be taken, or that are already happening, rather than entirely on what could happen if it all goes wrong.
You are the expert on your kid, and know them best, so you can best gauge how much information they can handle. I would always recommend erring on the side of caution, and avoiding anything that is too upsetting or graphic.
Openness is Key
Be open to hearing how much they already know about climate change. Stay open to hearing their questions, and holding their feelings for them. Allowing all their feelings is really important so that they don’t feel shut down.
It can be hard as a parent to hear about our children’s uncomfortable feelings – especially when they may mirror our own – because we want to protect them from bad experiences, because we love them so much! Yet the world is full of things that can upset them so it’s actually better just to be there and listen and comfort them rather than try to ‘fix it’ or ‘rescue’ them, because this helps to support them in developing their own coping skills. We will not be there with them in all walks of life, so it’s good practice to feel some of the uncomfortable things at home and see that we can survive even the hardest feelings – they need not overwhelm us.
Think About Your Own Feelings
Who do you share your worries and fears with?
Climate anxiety is more prevalent than ever before, so it’s good to talk to a friend and let go of some of the feelings you are holding before you speak to your child about this big topic. Do things that help you feel positive and strong, spend time with your loved ones and out in nature as all these things can counteract low level anxiety.
Explain to Them How we got Here, and How Things Can Change
Instead of talking about shocking facts & figures on where we are at and where we are headed, talk to them about why this really happened, and about how the planet is becoming a bigger priority moving forward. Tell them more about how things are changing and give them examples of people, companies and governments who are beginning to do better. Teach them smaller practical actions we as individuals can take to be more responsible. Whether it’s about disposing off their snack bags properly, or purchasing toys that consist of plastic.
Empower Your Child to Get Involved
When we focus on any problem, it is important to not dwell on the problem itself but to look for possible solutions. Depending on your child’s age you can get them involved in helping in many different ways. Make sure to do it in ways that can be fun – the best way to learn is through play, so the more playful you can be, the better. Here are some suggestions:
Get them interested in nature and spend time outdoors with them, walking, hiking, playing, or collecting things from nature like leaves or stones etc. Use your imagination! The weirder the rock looks, the more points you get. Some stones can look like weird gnomes with strange noses.
Get them involved in sorting out the recycling – taking physical actions can help relieve the anxiety that can be lurking beneath the surface. If they are old enough they can write letters petitioning elected officials, big companies, and organizations like Greenpeace, for example.
When you take them shopping, talk to them about the choices you make when you’re buying things. Recycled Paper made from elephant poo is a great example of something that can help but also be funny. Find ways for it to be entertaining or catch their interest.
Find role-models for them – people who have taken action, invented things that can help or stood up to big companies and governments to ask them to change course for the sake of our environment.
There are hundreds of ways to get them involved, and the more you instill in them in a positive way that they can be part of the solution to collectively help humankind out of this jam, the more empowered they can feel to want to make a difference!