When we talk with kids about climate change, we nurture the seed of love and kindness toward the planet you’ve already planted together. Talking about climate change can also help that seed bloom into a deeper respect and greater understanding for the broad field of science.
You don’t have to be a teacher or scientist to explain the basics of climate change and why we should care about it. But the first step is encouraging your child’s inherent love of nature.
We protect what we love. Whether your child has spent time hiking to a bubbling stream or watching birds in the park, they’ve experienced the peaceful feeling Mother Nature provides so generously. If your child cares about animals, it’s only natural they’ll want animals to have a safe habitat.
It’s all connected. And a kid who spends times in nature knows it… and feels it.
You can use that connection as a starting point for your talks about climate change.
HOW TO TALK WITH YOUR CHILD ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
Here are some guidelines for bringing up the topic. Be sure to keep your own feelings under control – especially around young children.
APPROACH IT WITH CURIOSITY & HOPE
Climate change can be scary. It’s our job as parents to limit stressors – especially ones kids can’t do much about on their own. Be sure to keep your own feelings under control. Fear makes us powerless. It can hinder our decision making process, and it makes some of us feel like it’s easier to keep our heads in the sand.
Start with easily understandable bits of information and don’t overwhelm them with gloom and doom. Encourage their questions. Keep your attitude hopeful that even though humans created a challenging situation, there are many of us who care and are working toward solutions.
EXPLAINING CLIMATE CHANGE & GLOBAL WARMING
The simplest explanation is that the earth is getting warmer – mostly as a result of human activities. This is something that’s been discussed for more than a hundred years. Alexander Graham Bell was the first to coin the phrase “greenhouse effect.”
You can also find a guide to explaining climate change age-appropriately here.
The there are many greenhouse gases. For example, water vapor and methane are lesser-known greenhouse gases. The one discussed most often is carbon dioxide — mostly because it’s produced in the highest quantities. All of these gases share a common trait, which is to trap heat.
EXPLAINING GREENHOUSE GAS
Here’s how to simulate the greenhouse effect with common household items.
- Partially fill (about half way) two identical clear bottles with water.
- Punch a small hole in each one, so that the temperature of the gases in each bottle can be measured.
- Place an Alka Seltzer in one bottle, to fill it with carbon dioxide.
- Place both bottles in the sun for a while, and take temperature readings every 10 minutes or so. You’ll notice that the bottle with the carbon dioxide has a slightly higher temperature. This mimics the effect of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.
In much the same way that a farmer’s greenhouse works, these gases allow light to pass through the atmosphere but prevents the subsequent heat from leaving. NASA’s Climate Kids explains that as the earth’s atmosphere does the same thing as the greenhouse. Gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide do what the roof of a greenhouse does.
During the day, the sun shines through the atmosphere. Earth’s surface warms up in the sunlight. At night, Earth’s surface cools, releasing the heat back into the air. But some of the heat is trapped by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
EMPOWERING KIDS TO CURB CLIMATE CHANGE
Certainly, this is a collective effort. Older kids are ready to discuss systemic changes and how the bulk of the energy crisis is caused by big corporations. They can also examine how their level of consumerism may play a part in the demand that creates the vicious cycle.
Encourage discussions among kids, and keep the conversation open so everyone can offer suggestions.
Big kids can also start reaching out to their state and local representatives. They’re hearing from special interest groups and big businesses with big money. So, encourage your teen to use their voice for positive change.
Aside from that, we can focus on energy conservation in the home. This includes swapping light bulbs to energy efficient ones, keeping lights off in unoccupied rooms, and making sure that exterior doors are closed while a furnace or air conditioner is on. Each step you take for a safer and clean environment really does add up.
After all – we protect what we love.
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