How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change

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“A few months ago, I was standing at the sink in the kitchen. Suddenly my daughter, who’s seven, said, “You’re lucky you got to have your adulthood before the planet was completely destroyed by climate change.” I didn’t know this was on her mind. I hadn’t spent all that much time talking to her about it. And the worst part, somehow, is that her voice wasn’t full of emotion. It was completely matter-of-fact. Like, oh well, we don’t have time to stop for ice cream, and I don’t get to grow up in a world with a functioning ecosystem. How do you comfort a child when the science suggests she’s correct? ”

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1. Break the silence

For a growing number of families all over the world, there’s no avoiding it: Climate change is already at their front door.

2. Give your kids the basic facts

NPR found in a poll earlier this year that fully 84 percent of parents agreed that children should be learning about climate change.

3. Get outdoors

Spend as much time as possible exploring the outdoors, from old-growth forests to vegetable gardens.

4. Focus on Feelings

Clinical anxiety affects a small (and growing) percentage of children. But worries about the environment are widespread. In a recent poll in The Washington Post, 7 in 10 teenagers said climate change will harm their generation — that was a bit more than older folks.

5. Take action

The second big-picture way to cope with a stressor like climate change, after emotion-focused coping, is problem-focused coping.

6. Find Hope

Emotion-focused coping is about feelings. Problem-focused coping is about action. The third path to coping with a stressor like climate change, Burke says, is meaning-focused coping. This is about thinking: how to frame the problem so that we can continue to hope and not collapse into cynicism, apathy or despair.

She cites Swedish psychologist Maria Ojala, who is looking at how children and teenagers are finding resilience to the threat of climate change. Ojala found one successful strategy was to develop trust that others are working on this problem — to realize none of us are alone. A second was to focus on the many benefits of a sustainable future, like more social justice, stronger communities, better health.

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