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June 2019 Family Ministries by Kathy E. Smith

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Words to Live By

Earth is our home. We are part of this world and its destiny is our own. Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change, 2006

How on Earth Do You Talk about Climate Change with Children?

It’s a good question, right? We adults are often uncomfortable when we think about the major environmental issues facing the world. How do we talk among ourselves, let alone with the children we would (if we could) protect from our fear, anger, and discouragement? And yet, just like race, sexuality, loss, and suffering, if we don’t talk about the hard topics, someone else will. Our children will learn whether or not we choose to teach them. So how? 

Expose them to the natural world. You cannot save what you do not love, and you cannot love what you do not know. Explore your backyard and your neighborhood; visit some of Baton Rouge’s wonderful parks; walk the nature trails at Bluebonnet Swamp or Frenchtown Road Conservation Area. Show them how life grows and how everything is related. Share slow-motion videos of how a seed becomes a plant or how a cocoon becomes a butterfly; read stories about life in a rainforest or on the polar ice; talk about photosynthesis and how water becomes steam or ice depending on the temperature. Help them fall in love with our amazing Earth. Appreciation and curiosity are the foundation for all future conversations.

Educate yourself on the science so that you can provide accurate information in language your child will grasp. You don’t have to know it all, but learning about plastic usage, global warming, and weather changes will help you answer well. You might be tempted to wait for a teacher to bring it up first. But you as a parent have the advantage of knowing your child’s emotional development, readiness to hear difficult topics, and interests that you can follow up with. Use that knowledge to help your child find actions to take and hope to build upon.

Listen to their questions. “Tell me more about that” and “where’d you hear about that?” are good conversational gambits to get a little more information before you answer. Just as with questions about sex, it’s important to answer the question the child is asking (rather than simply dumping your own fears and worries into answering a question that is far above the child’s actual developmental level). The goal is not to frighten a child but to empower them with knowledge.

With a child under age seven or so, focus on the simple and the concrete, things in your household and the child’s everyday life. Young children benefit from experiences like growing your own vegetables, using cloth grocery bags, or walking/biking to the store instead of using the car. “We are walking instead of driving because too much use of fossil fuels (like gas) is making the earth a warmer place” or “we don’t use plastic bags because they don’t decompose in landfills” are the type of explanations a young child can understand.

With older children, you can go into more detail, still keeping the language simple and the examples relatable. With teens, concentrate on critical thinking skills to help them research and analyze the ideas that they may encounter. In this age of reliance on internet information, help them learn to distinguish solid science from spurious claims. Support their STEM learning – it’s not all about college preparation!  We need people who love science for its own sake as well.

Acknowledge the feelings that come up during these conversations (and it’s okay to let them know that adults feel those feelings too). Try to maintain a focus on what your family can do to make a positive impact. Yes, much of what needs to change is on the institutional level, but individual efforts make an impact as well. Children – and adults – need to hear hope. Try to talk as much about what can be done (and is being done) as you do about what is going wrong. Focusing on solutions and highlighting success stories can help a child (or adult) see a role for themselves in protecting the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part.

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