How to talk to kids about climate change
As bushfires rage across Australia, experts warn that ‘eco-anxiety’ among children is on the rise. Here’s how to help allay their fears about the planet’s future.
Climate change and its effects make headlines on a regular basis – and that’s particularly pertinent at the start of 2020 as bushfires spur debate around the effects of climate change.
For children and young adults, those headlines can be alarming.
Research shows about 7 per cent to 45 per cent of children suffer depression and anxiety after a natural disaster, particularly if they are directly affected or have poor social support.
And Australian Psychological Society research suggests 95 per cent of young Australians believe climate change is a serious problem, and four in five are anxious about it.
So how do you talk to kids about climate change without causing sleepless nights?
First, make space for conversation
APS president Ros Knight says it is important that young people can talk about their worries.
“Adults should be aware that children are feeling these emotions about climate change as keenly as we are,” Ros says.
“It is important to speak positively with children about climate change, and explain to them that taking actions like walking, catching public transport, talking to others or joining groups can and will make a difference.”
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Greenpeace program director Dominique Rowe recommends discussing climate change in terms children can relate to.
“I talk to my eight-year-old son, Albie, about climate and I build on things he knows or that he can touch and feel,” Dominique says.
“I point out the light globes and how they light the room and explain the way that light creates pollution which makes dirty air that changes the weather.
“And you can then show why it’s important to turn off lights.”
Here are some of Dominique’s other tips for shaping conversation with your child about climate change.
Acknowledge climate change and children’s concerns
“Young people want it acknowledged that there is a challenge that needs to be overcome,” Dominique says.
“Don’t gloss over the reality. Listen to what they say about climate change, explain how it happens in terms your child will understand, and talk about some impacts.
“Look at news stories together that highlight how climate change is having an effect on the world.”
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Talk about hope
Talk about positive things happening to tackle climate change, says Dominique.
“Talk about China and its investment in renewable energy, or how Australia has installed more renewable energy capacity in the past three years than it has in the past 30 years,” she says.
“Or talk about Greta Thunberg – the Swedish teenager who stood in front of parliament saying climate action needed to happen.
“Add that, since then, eight million young people – like your child – have placed pressure on companies and politicians to do the right thing.”
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Give children actions for tackling climate change
You can discuss making ‘good’ or ‘bad’ choices, says Dominique.
“Talk about people working as a team to do things that are positive about climate change,” she says.
“Talk about things your child can do regularly like switching off lights, catching public transport, riding their bike, and joining with friends to sign a petition about climate change.”
Written by Sarah Marinos.