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How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change Without Causing Panic

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Ket Takeaways

  • Many kids today are experiencing eco-anxiety about the effects of climate change.
  • Experts encourage parents to balance out these negative feelings by focusing on age-appropriate information and environmental stewardship.
  • When kids feel empowered to change the world around them, they are more likely to feel hopeful and less anxious.

Melting ice caps. Dying polar bears. Rising sea levels. When it comes to conversations about climate change, these phrases are frightening for young kids to hear. And, while statements about the destructive consequences of climate change are true, recent advice from scientists and child psychologists challenges you as a parent to focus less on harrowing facts and more on what your child can do to help.

Foster a Sustainability Mindset

Most scientists suggest parents take a less alarmist approach with kids when discussing climate change and the risks associated with it. Instead, they urge parents to focus on getting kids to fall in love with nature and helping them recognize that they need to be good stewards of the earth.

Causing excess anxiety serves no purpose, especially at a young age. Providing practical ways they can help prevent climate change is a much better approach. Doing so gives kids a sense of empowerment and control over a frightening topic.

Additional research has shown that more and more kids are developing "eco-anxiety" due to the messages they've heard in the media, and sometimes in schools.

For instance, researchers indicate that because children are being subjected to a plethora of concerns about the future of the planet, this translates into fears about how climate change will affect their lives when they grow up. While fears about mass extinctions are rational, the symptoms kids are experiencing mirror those of clinical anxiety.

While discussing climate change is an important topic that should never be avoided, it is important to take a careful approach when discussing the topic with children. The way in which you address it has a direct impact on your kids' young psyches. Here are some practical ways you can address climate change that should help keep the panic at a minimum.

Educate Yourself

You can't expect to have a rational discussion about climate change if you don't fully understand the issue yourself. So, take some time to become familiar not only with how global warming happens but also how it will impact the earth long-term.

Stick to information sources that are reputable and not political. For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, and the U.S. Agency for International Development's climate portal are good places to start. It's also important to pay attention to the strides that the world is making in addressing the issue. You don't want your conversations with your kids to be all doom and gloom. It's important to show them where progress has been made as well.

Keep It Age-Appropriate

Before discussing climate change with your children, consider their ages. For instance, most psychologists recommend delaying climate change discussions until your children are over eight years old. Unless they ask you a specific question, climate change is not a topic you need to address right away. Instead, focus on building a positive relationship with nature and the environment.

For kids that ask about climate change, approach discussions much the same way you approach discussions about sex, especially when kids are younger. In other words, answer all your child's questions openly and honestly, but stick to the questions you are asked and only provide information they are mature enough to handle.

Don't Avoid the Topic

A recent poll by NPR found that 84% of parents agreed that kids should be learning about climate change, but only 45% had actually talked to their kids about the issue. It's only natural that parents would want to shield their kids from scary and unpleasant topics. But avoiding the topic ends up hurting kids more than it helps them.

One way kids cope with scary subject matter is by relying on adults to address things. And, if you act like there is nothing to talk about, you may create confusion and even some unnecessary worry.

Remember, kids are going to hear things. They can either hear about climate change from you—a trusted source—or they can get information from other sources. When you allow your kids to rely on outside sources of information, you run the risk that they will believe false or misleading claims.

Check Your Fears at the Door

Unfortunately, many people process their own fears and anxieties about climate change while they are discussing them with their kids. When this happens, it creates fears and anxieties in kids—sometimes to the point that they are unsure how to handle all their emotions.

Before you talk to an elementary school child about rising sea levels, ask yourself if you are truly responding to their curiosity or sharing your own fears and concerns.

Find Ways to Cope

If your children are particularly worried about the future or how climate change might impact their lives, be sure you don't brush it off as nothing. Instead, find ways to help them cope. For instance, help them process their feelings and concerns by encouraging them to take control of the situation by doing their part in addressing climate change.

For younger kids, this could be simple things like recycling and conserving water. For older kids, they might want to get more involved in conservation programs, join a protest, or write letters to representatives and congresspeople. The key is that you provide hope for the situation. You don't want your kids to feel like there is no use—that by the time they are adults, there will be nothing left of the earth.

What This Means For You

When it comes to talking about climate change, it's best to avoid being alarmist. Instead, focus on getting your kids to fall in love with nature and help them recognize that they can be good stewards of the earth. Teach them how to do practical things like conserve water, recycle, and consume fewer products that fill landfills or contribute to pollution.

If your kids are particularly worried about the earth not being around by the time they get older, help them channel their worries into something productive like volunteering for a conservation group or increasing awareness in their community. If they continue to struggle with anxiety and worry, talk to their pediatrician for help and suggestions.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Psychological Association. Is climate grief something new? Updated February 19, 2020.

  2. Strife, S. Children's environmental concerns: expressing ecophobiaThe Journal of Environmental Education43(1),37-54. doi:10.1080/00958964.2011.602131

  3. National Public Radio (NPR). Most teachers don't teach climate change; 4 In 5 parents wish they did. Updated April 22, 2019.

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