Parenting | Compassion | Issues

Wisdom for Talking to Kids About Climate Change

Tips from scientists, activists and policy experts

Wisdom flashcard from Sightline Institute

When my daughter was 4-and-a-half, she asked me point blank about climate change.

You’d think I’d be equipped for this conversation. After all, this is what I do for a living! For over a decade, I have studied the communications literature and issued dozens of talking points memos on climate challenges and solutions.

But her question left me speechless.

She had cracked open a heavily-guarded vault of emotions. Everything I know and fear — and compartmentalize — about the planet’s prognosis, our broken systems and fossil fuel politics was tied in a knot in my throat.

Nobody wants to frighten their kids. (Even the most reasonable adults are shut down by fear.) But as the stakes grow more stark and the politics get more divisive, it’s more crucial than ever that we bring the full force of our emotions to this fight and that we raise active community-minded and environmentally-aware citizens. And, I believe, talking to our kids is one way to focus all our own difficult and powerful feelings to fuel rather than sap our work — and our spirits

Kids are receptive. Think about it: Dealing with climate change is about things they already know well. It’s about cleaning up our messes; about the sun, wind, air, water and our own bodies; it’s about caretaking and treating all people with respect and dignity, about stopping bullies; about sharing; and also about the rules that keep us safe — and making sure everyone’s follows the same rules! Young people are naturally curious, observant and creative — they can get excited about nature, science and new ideas.

And, most children intuitively know right from wrong. Their built-in moral compass detects and rejects injustice. And most little kids see unfairness and want to fix it. Teenagers, for their part, are good at questioning authority, blasting apart established orthodoxy and embracing innovations. In fact, our kids probably grasp the basics and get on board with solutions better than most grownups! 

But the question remains: How do we really talk about it? How do we prepare our kids for the hard conversations and for our own emotions?

Working with ParentMap, [which published the September 2016 story, "Raising Kids in a Warming World"] we gathered wisdom from respected colleagues, activists and scientists who are also parents — from Puget Sound to Standing Rock to British Columbia and Portland. Here’s who we talked to:

Here is their shared wisdom for talking about global warming and for laying the foundations for climate-conscious and community-minded children.

Originally published by Sightline Institute

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