Recently, I asked myself what I was doing when I was sixteen years old. The trigger for this question was the realization that teens of today, like Greta Thunberg and other young people, are fighting battles I never had to fight. My memories are still as fresh as just brushed teeth. At sixteen, I was worried about developing acne on my face. It was such a wonderful thing to be a teenager. You may take me to be vain but in my defense, climate change wasn’t a catastrophe that required my attention.
The issue of climate change has become important on the world stage and the same is also happening in Kenya since the impacts of climate change have now become real to us. Weather patterns are unpredictable, we have increased cases of droughts, conflicts of natural resources, and pests and diseases are ravaging us and our crops. Against such a background, it would be naïve to think that our children don’t know or have questions about climate change. I encountered this reality when I went to speak to a group of grade four pupils about deforestation. Immediately I mentioned the word ‘climate change’, what followed was a myriad of questions. So, how do we talk to our children about climate change? Here are a few tips!
Pro-tip #1, educate yourself. Know the difference between climate and weather, global warming and climate change among other things. A basic knowledge of crucial facts not only increases your ability to answer any question but it also increases your confidence in answering them. But, don’t make the mistake of lying to children when you don’t know the answer to a question. Children are not gullible. Just say you don’t know and will work hard to find out. This will make them trust you.
Pro-tip #2, find out what they know first. Before you begin any discussion, find out what the kids know about climate change. Being in the thick of technology, kids are picking up a lot of information as they go about their day. Assessing them allows you to know where you can begin the conversation from, allows you to dispel any myths they may have about climate change but most importantly, it shows them that you honour them. Children are not robots to be instructed all the time. They want adults to ask their opinion on ‘stuff’.
Pro-tip #3, make it fun. Use stories, visuals, puzzles, games. Children love stories, activities, and anything fun. They also have no qualms letting you know that you’re boring. Trust me, you don’t want to hear that from the mouth of a six or eight year old child. It can destroy your adult self-esteem. The stories don’t have to be from a formal book. They can be about how the weather was when you were growing up and how different it is now. Ultimately, the activities must communicate a truth about climate change. Bonus tip, go local as often as you can. The children will relate to it more.
Pro-tip #4, give information in small, manageable sizes. The library on climate change is massive. If it’s overwhelming to us as adults, imagine how it is for children. So, endevour to take it one day at a time. One fact today, another one tomorrow. This also allows them to think and marinate over what they have learnt. Don’t rush it. Climate change should be a daily, fun conversation.
Pro-tip #5, encourage kids to take action and show them success stories like Ellyanne Wanjiku, an eight year old girl who has been planting trees ever since she learnt of their importance as a four year old. Even if climate change is serious, it shouldn’t leave children feeling hopeless and powerless. There’s a lot to do like planting trees, carrying their own shopping bags, throwing less away, etc. Focusing on solutions and success stories ignites hope in their little hearts.
Empowering our children to protect the environment is worthwhile. The more they’re involved, the more they’re able to see what role they can play in changing the future of the environment besides worrying about acne, which might never develop!
Image from Together Scotland.