How to Discuss Climate Change With Your Kids

The realities of climate change can be overwhelming for kids. But there are ways to educate our kids without stressing them out.

As intense weather phenomena keep happening around the world, more people are talking openly about the reality of climate change. While some people believe that climate change is too complex or frightening for children, it’s important to keep them informed about the world they are living in. They may come to you with their own questions.

After all, the problems we don’t fix will become their problems. It can be intimidating to have to explain how and why the world is heating up. Here are ten tips to help you talk about climate change with your children.

1 | Decide if you want to bring it up first

Some parents decide to tell their children as much as they know about climate change. Others only discuss environmentally-responsible behaviors, such as recycling and turning off the lights. Still, other parents would rather wait until the child brings up the topic.

It’s okay to hope that a teacher might broach the topic first, especially if you don’t think your children are old enough to understand. But be prepared in case they come to you with questions. You might be able to delay the conversation a little while, but soon, they may demand to know why you recycle or why are there so many hurricanes.

2 | Teach your children to enjoy nature

While nature should be protected for nature’s sake, your conversation might go smoother if your children already have an appreciation for it. Take trips to local parks, museums, or botanical gardens. Memberships offer easy access and will support that organization’s projects.

Explaining climate change can be more difficult if you’re trying to avoid talking about human extinction. So focus on other aspects of nature. Point out the squirrels and birds in your neighborhood. Go somewhere quiet, if possible, and let them listen to the sounds of life around them.

3 | Recognize that you are not an expert

Start with cause and effect. Then explain the details you want to share as you know them. Climate change can be complicated, especially if you have inquisitive children that want to know more about methane or how much the Arctic is warming.

Answer their questions as best as you can, and decide how you can get more information together. Can they take out library books on the topic on their own, or would you rather they only research it on the iPad when you are with them?

4 | Explain how your children can help at home

Talk to your children about energy consumption, water usage, and waste. Explain where your garbage goes, if you know. Talk about practical things your children can do to help. Encourage your children to be active in turning off the lights or making sure everyone puts their soda cans in the recycle bin. It might even become a game.

5 | Encourage inventive ideas

Ask your children how they want to help combat climate change. Some of their ideas might be practical to implement at home or at school, if the school is willing. Other ideas might not be good or practical, but that’s okay, too.

If you can get your children thinking like inventors, then they might one day be the ones to figure out a new solar panel design or longer lasting batteries.

6 | Consider explaining what the government or other organizations are doing to combat climate change

Talk about electric cars or logging or pollution. If you know about the Paris Agreement, talk about that.

If you don’t know the details, give broad outlines of things people are doing to combat climate change. If you only know that some companies are doing something with solar and wind, that can be enough.

7 | Consider whether or not to mention the shortcomings of current action

Action against climate change faces many challenges, and some children despair at the idea that our warming planet is taking lives and destroying places. Truly consider whether your children need to know about the obstacles, or whether leaving the conversation with personal responsibility is good enough for now.

If your children can handle the reality or if they ask to take more action, consider explaining that some people don’t believe human beings cause climate change. Then help them contact their representatives or take them to a rally.

8 | Don’t force the conversation

If your children aren’t interested, that’s okay. Save the conversation for another day, or consider how you can tie the conversation into one of your children’s interests.

If your child likes trucks, talk about fuel efficiency or electric cars. If your child likes cooking, explain why you go to the farmer’s market and eat seasonal foods. If your child likes dolls or giraffes or Spongebob, there’s probably a way to tie their interest into climate change so it seems natural and keeps their attention. If that still doesn’t work, let the topic go for now and try again when they’re older.

9 | Don’t lie, but don’t be negative either

If you don’t know the answer to something, encourage your kids to look it up, or tell them you will find out and let them know. If your children start despairing, stop the conversation and remind them that they can help out in their neighborhood or even just at home.

It’s good to bump the thermostat up or down to save energy, but it’s not good to be freezing in the winter because your child is overwhelmed with a need to save the planet because other people aren’t doing enough. Find a balance that works for everyone involved.

10 | Use additional resources

If you need help with your explanation or you want to keep the conversation going, seek other resources. The Guardian listed some of the best children’s books about climate change, and the World Wildlife Fund has a list of games. Climate Generation provides educational resources for students grades 3 to 12 to learn about a variety of climate-related topics both on their own and in the classroom. Other organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Discovery Channel have sections on their websites aimed at educating and entertaining children.