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Small talk: How to talk to kids about climate change

By December 4, 2021No Comments

The Article


Pat Kane looks at the ways in which children are affected by the climate emergency and how to help them with eco-anxiety…

Our planet is hurting and our kids are feeling it.


A few months ago, my sons and I were walking back from our local park when suddenly TJ, who’s seven, said: ‘Mom, I heard that our planet is burning. Are you sure we are doing enough to help?’

Whilst a massive wave of hope ran through my body and I thought to myself, ‘He cares about it! He wants to help!’ I also found myself wondering what sort of conversations he was having with his pals and what his levels of anxiety were at the time.

The thing is, to feel overwhelmed about the climate crisis is only natural.

I feel it and you probably feel it too. And with our kids it is no different.

This overwhelming feeling of knowing that something is wrong but not quite knowing what that is or how to fix it is what we call eco-anxiety.

In a recent poll in The Washington Post, seven in ten teenagers said climate change will harm their generation. It’s clear to me that kids feel as anxious about this whole thing as grownups do – they just don’t have as much information to potentially turn that anxiety into fuel.

There is no way to shield young people from the reality of the climate crisis – it would be counterproductive even if it were possible. Rather, parents and carers should talk to children about their concerns and help them feel empowered to take action – however small – that can make a real difference.

So, how can you help?

Personally, I feel that as a parent, I need to acknowledge my children’s worries. I need to get them to focus on action and most importantly, I need to keep them positive. I see eco-anxiety as fuel and my goal is to turn this fuel into hope, courage and direction.

I need to get my little (ec0) warriors ready to fight… fight for a better planet, that is.

Over the past 3 or so years I got to work with children of all ages to help them understand what’s going on out there and to help them feel empowered enough to act on the problem.

So here are a few of my tips for you:

Speak up!

Despite the fact that the climate crisis literally affects everyone on our planet, too many of us are still not openly talking about it. And in all fairness, who wants to talk about this idea of imminent doom or huge storms or wildfires sweeping through our world? I get it; it’s a scary thing! But we have to talk about it… It might not be that sort of direct conversation but you can absolutely bring it up as you go through your daily routine.

For instance, if you find yourself with your kids at a grocery store, highlight the fact that you are buying loose veggies rather than the ones wrapped in plastic and explain to them in a simple and relaxed way that plastic wrappers aren’t always essential. It might be a good opportunity to talk about plastic pollution and ways to avoid single-use plastics at home as well.

When preparing dinner, bring up the fact that you are trying to introduce Meat-Free Mondays – or similar initiatives – in order to reduce your meat consumption, as meat is probably one of the worst offenders when it comes to carbon fooDprint…

What I am trying to say is that you don’t have to sit the entire family down to discuss climate change, all in one go. You can use simple moments and daily choices to highlight current issues and to introduce planet-friendly alternatives without going near doom & gloom facts and stats.

Fact check

While we wait for environmentalism to become a core subject in Irish schools, we will probably have to teach our kids about it ourselves. We want to be helpful and we want to talk about stuff knowing that what we are saying makes sense.

And that’s why I will take a minute to beg you to be careful with all of the ‘social media learning’ that’s going on nowadays AKA just because someone, somewhere created a cute little post telling you ‘all about how to help polar bears’, doesn’t mean the information is 100% accurate. Look for trustworthy sources of information and research your points before discussing them at home. Keep it simple and keep it practical.

Kids need to know that their actions can make a difference. And of course, you know your kids best, so try to make sure the level of information you’re giving them is appropriate and not too graphic or upsetting but be aware that at the same time, we can’t always control what they may be hearing elsewhere, so it’s good to be proactive, with easy-to-digest and straightforward facts.

Emotional support 

Within all the fear and feelings of helplessness around the climate crisis and our future, your role is to be a friendly branch for your kids to grab on to.

Our job as parents and carers is to be open to hearing how children might be feeling and thinking about the climate crisis and be able to help the children to manage those feelings.

Becoming more emotionally aware and available as a family, and having a toolbox of comforting activities to try when your kids are feeling anxious or low about our environment, is one way to help everyone become more resilient – whether it’s something they watched on the news, or a storm coming to your town.

Think spending time with people who we love and care for, doing positive activities like exercising together or cooking together, spending time outdoors or even having a screen break. This is all about reassuring our kids that we are here to help them as we all go through this planet recovery journey together. It’s all about human interaction, shared experiences and knowledge exchange. We can’t fight this crisis by ourselves, we need to join forces and support each other.

Take action

As I am always saying, focus on what you can control. Your consumption habits, the food you eat, the businesses you choose to support – these are important areas that you and your family can 100% control. So, how about coming together as a family and creating your own list of the things you can actually do to mitigate what’s going on out there? Trust me, this will be fun!

All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil. Well, if you want to go ‘pro’, get a chalkboard or a white board is stick it to a wall in your kitchen. Think of that piece of paper (or that board!) as your green vision board – how you and your family want the world to look like in 5, 10 years and what you will do to get there? My husband and I got our first board in place back in 2014 and we’ve never looked back.

We learned how to grow our own vegetables and got to share some homegrown organic vegetables and herbs with our neighbours, we cut down our meat consumption, we chose thrift stores instead of purchasing new clothes, we DIY’ed cleaning products and swapped our conventional bathroom products for solid bars and plastic-free alternatives. We learned how to avoid food waste, we learned about carbon footprint and how to reduce it… the list goes on!

And even more important than all of the above, we began to write to businesses that didn’t meet our expectations, we have been writing to local politicians and joining environmental rallies – our youngest, Conor, was only 2 when he first attended one. What a wonderful way to empower young people and model democracy in action, right?

We are keeping our hopes high by looking back at all that’s been achieved so far and celebrating every tiny victory. As parents and carers, we have the choice to use progress as a driving force for an even better world. We should be optimistic not because our problems are smaller than we thought – that’s certainly not the case! – but because our ability to solve them is larger and stronger than we ever thought. Kids onboard and all!

Pat Kane is the co-host of new podcast series The Devil Wears Organic Cotton