Updated: Nov 3
Don't scare them but definitely tell them.
Considering how important climate change is, it's astonishing kids don't learn about it in school! I'm no expert in this, I've just read a fair few articles to help me understand the best way to approach it with my own kids and what I've learnt I'll share with you. To make things easier I've broken down this article into age groups because, as every parent knows, kids process information differently as they grow.
At this age it's a good idea to instil a deep love and respect for nature. Kids are impressionable when young and gain their sense of self and perspective from their parents. So it's up to us to teach them the importance of the natural world. It's our job to help them grow into healthy, responsible stewards of the planet. This doesn't have to be complicated, in my house we built a pond, wormery, worm hotel, bug- and hedgehog-house; housed caterpillars and released the butterflies; planted fruit trees, fruit bushes, vegetables, wild flower seeds and bee-friendly plants (they love clover and lavender btw); we made bird feeders and went exploring around the garden to find as many creatures as possible, and discussed everything we saw. My daughter loved it, every single bit, especially the bug house.
But regardless of what you decide to do the most important thing is to spend as much time in nature as possible. Because if our kids don't respect and appreciate the natural world around them, they won't have a reason to look after it when they're older.
Past toddler age it's a good idea to take a soft approach to climate change
My daughter is 6 and giving her all the scary facts would do nothing but give her night terrors. Instead we focus on small achievable things: switching lights off when leaving a room; turning the tap off when brushing our teeth; recycling whenever possible; not buying small plastic toys (including items with lots of plastic packaging); and eating a plant-based diet at home. Giving her the responsibility of these small jobs helps her feel empowered. She knows that the world is getting hotter and that's a bad thing because it's making the ice caps melt. She also knows that carbon emitted from cars heats the air. And she knows that plastic ends up in the ocean where it kills animals (Nick Cope's Plastic bag song has helped with that). But that's as far as we are taking it for now.
From 9 onwards
According to David Sobel, an environmental educator and faculty member at Antioch University in New Hampshire, past the age of 9 most kids can grasp the bigger picture, making this a great age to explain climate change in a little more detail. This is a good time to introduce films touching on the subject such as The Lorax, Wall-E, or even Avatar which tells a fictional story about humans and their impact on the environment. You can find a whole list of these here.
The Lorax - Rated Age 6+
Wall-E - rated G
Avatar - rated PG-13
I personally think it's also a good idea to discuss ideas of how you can work together to make a difference in the world so that kids can feel more optimistic and not despondent. I have no experience in this area as my kids are only small, but I think a good idea would be to step up the projects - sign up for some tree planting in your local area (if you live near Farnham, Surrey, get in touch with me), I know the National Trust have a huge tree-planting drive in the near future. Perhaps they could hold an event or car boot sale to raise money for a charity such as Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, or local animal sanctuary, even find a local community garden to get involved with and so on. The important thing is to inspire them to look at climate change with hope not doom. This way we can we help foster a climate of change in our younger generation.