Stories from Parents and Carers
Australian Parents for Climate Action shared with me how they raise the topic with their kids. The differences in responses highlights that you do need to trust your own instincts and consider the child's readiness:
My son has just turned 5, and I've talked to him about climate change all his life. He doesn't seem scared at all (I haven't told him that he needs to be - that won't help!). As far as I can tell he just understands that it's a problem and he expects everyone to deal with that problem, just like people deal with other problems when they arise. He came to the last school strike with me, and there were several toddlers and babies there. I just see this as another part of life and think that while we have to protect our children from the impacts of climate change, we don't have to protect them from the concept. My son asks to come to the rallies and meetings. His Mum is doing it, so he thinks it's something cool and exciting that he wants to be part of! I think that's good role modelling. I totally recognise everyone's individual choices though, and just like with every other aspect of parenting, you have to do what you feel is right.
I think just explain the facts. Tell them the world is getting hotter because we are burning too many fossil fuels - explain that they are coal, oil and gas, they are found underground and we burn them to make energy for our lights, electricity and cars. Tell them we've got to stop burning those fossil fuels because we don't want our world getting even hotter - it's hot enough! Then explain that there are new ways of making electricity that don't make our world hot - solar, wind, etc. My son is now 5 and I've been explaining that to him since he was about 2. I haven't told him how serious the emergency is, but he sure understands that it matters and that there are solutions.
I'm sure it will be harder when they ask us about impacts on their own lives, but again I think I'll stick to facts and drip feed it, certainly not present all the concerns in one go! And i always try to remind him (and everyone) that we have a choice and there are great solutions.
One thing I'd like to share was something my 11 year old told me when we were on a bushwalk. How one part of her was very happy. She loves her school, has good friends, loves her family etc. And then the other part was just very worried about climate change. We talk about climate and the environment a lot but I try and shield her from the worst expected consequences. My eight year old doesn't want to talk about it or the future. He tends to walk away when we do.
I have explained the concept to mine (7 and 4) because it’s been unavoidable because they are with me so much of the time. I just explained that burning coal causes air pollution and perhaps I also said that the world is getting warmer, which can make it complicated to grow crops and things. I have explained that there are alternatives to coal and that lots of people are trying to make the world a better place. They don’t find it terrifying because I haven’t expressed my fear to them. I hope they aren’t scarred by being exposed to this concept so young!!! I really had no alternative because I am basically with at least one of them 100% of the time, so they have heard me talk about it (but always in an age appropriate ways when they are in ear shot).
Parents and grandparents are the ones who do it, then the kids are around listening to us talking, singing and chanting so it’s part of their world. They come in and out of interest as they want. Some have no interest at all and others are quite attentive.
I just spoke to a very close friend. Her son is 10 years old. He is learning about climate change at school at the moment. My friend is now dealing with her son crying himself to sleep most nights! I love her son! I feel absolute dread that he is now suffering.
My kids are 3 and 4. Until kids are around 8 (probably even age 11) it's best to keep the focus of climate change on the impacts on nature like fish and frogs... we don't need to draw the dots that their future is on the line. I think it's very personal whether the child is ready to hear about climate or just to be engaged on the concept of caring for nature. But i talk about climate all the time at home. I try to keep it age appropriate in front of the kids, but it's hard to know just how to approach it. I think I am returning to the idea of not talking about it too much but keeping the focus on nature and protecting what we love. Instilling caring for nature seems the best way to help kids then also engage on climate when they are ready. it's also important to point out that lots of people are working to protect the future. talk about it in a way that shows you can see how it can be solved. One time, after the IPCC report came out and Scott Morrison ignored it, I got really upset. I had to tell the girls something. Why was I crying? I told them I work on protecting frogs and fish and sometimes it's hard (even though by that I mean climate action). They seemed to get it and have started to take protecting frogs and fish from plastic etc. very seriously.
I'm taking our 3 year old [to a school strike 4 climate event], who has come to other rallies before (on coal and climate). We go with friends or stay near other families, and it has been a positive experience so far. I tell her that we all care about nature and children, and that by acting together we can pollute less, and protect the things we love.
She understands that pollution can harm things, and what's currently happening is not good. I tell her that things like burning coal need to change, and these changes will make the world better in many ways. She understands 'climate' as being part of the world around us that affects weather, rain and all kinds of water, and knows that it can be affected by pollution. (I wouldn't choose to emphasise climate, but she encounters the word often, especially at rallies, so I try to help her have some idea of what it means.) She does not know all the scary impacts, and I think it's important to protect her from feeling hopeless or that her future is threatened.