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Kids & Teens Medical Group

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American Academy of Pediatrics Offers Tips on Talking with Children about Climate Change

Apr 22, 2021
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American Academy of Pediatrics Offers Tips on Talking with Children about Climate Change

Children may have questions about the changing climate. Many are hearing about or experiencing climate-change-fueled disasters such as wildfires and severe storms.

Climate change affects everyone, but it impacts kids the most. Children are especially vulnerable to environmental health harms since they are still growing and have higher exposure to air, food, and water based on weight.

“While the climate crisis can feel like an overwhelming topic, there are healthy ways to talk with kids about it,” said pediatrician Steph Lee, MD, MPH, FAAP, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We can communicate in a way that is honest, hopeful, developmentally appropriate, and action oriented. By helping kids understand the issue of climate change and how it affects their health and futures, we empower them to make a difference.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips on how to talk with children about climate change, which media outlets are free to use with attribution.

Toddlers and Children Under 5

  • This a perfect time to introduce young children about the joys of nature. Parents may take walks to show how weather affects nature and marks the seasons. You can point out bird nests, for example, and talk about how weather influences when and where birds make their nests. Talk about other wild animals and discuss how they all have homes that need protecting.
  • Young children also enjoy gardening. Pick out fruit, vegetable, or flower seeds to plant in your garden, or herbs to plant in kitchen boxes. Young children can help take care of plants, and get excited seeing something grow from nothing. Talk about how your child needs air to breathe and so do plants and animals. When pollutants get in the air, that affects their health.
  • Point out local effects of climate change depending on your location. Some areas may be more prone to wildfires, hurricanes and floods, while others may experience longer and more intense heat waves or an increase in illness from mosquitoes and ticks.

School Age Children (6-12)

  • Begin explaining concepts behind climate change in simple scientific terms. Ask what they know and fill in blanks or research it together. NASA has online resources to help parents go through each aspect of climate change.
  • Discuss how personal choices can affect the environment and show respect for nature. Calculate your family’s carbon footprint together and ask them how they suggest lowering it. Examples include:
  • Turn lights off after leaving the room.
  • Try biking or walking, taking public transit or carpooling, when possible.
  • Eat a more plant-based diet.

Explain how people – including kids – can be powerful forces in protecting the environment. Point out that choices we make can help make our planet, and people, healthier.

Teenagers (ages 13-18)

  • Because teens are more aware of how issues may influence all aspects of their lives, you can discuss how climate change can affect our economy and society. This can spark scientific curiosity and introduce the idea of civic responsibility.
  • Pick a recent or ongoing event and discuss how climate change might have contributed to the event and its economic effects. For example, families can talk with their teen about how climate change is causing longer and more severe wildfires in California, resulting in the loss of homes and businesses. Discuss how it is also causing air pollution that forces people indoors. Consider the mental health effects all of this can have on families. 
  • Families might also explore how climate change doesn’t affect everyone equally, and the ways some communities experience more health risks. Discuss how everyone should have an equal opportunity to clean air and water.
  • Encourage your teen to come up with solutions and creative ways to express their ideas. They might use a science class presentation or a school, Scouts, 4-H or other project to educate peers about the need for climate change solutions. They could also form a club at school and brainstorm how to help the local community, write for a local or state newspaper on why teens care about the climate or join a national youth advocacy organization.
  • Work together to make changes at home, incorporating your teen’s ideas. Participate in advocacy as a family and pace your discussions to help prevent stress and anxiety.

The AAP also recommends that when disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes happen, be sure to limit your child’s media use to cut down on the amount of distressing footage they see and hear on the news. Take nature breaks when possible. 

“When you talk with your child, stay hopeful and focused on solutions,” Dr. Lee said. “We have tools to take climate action right now, remind them, and these can have immediate benefits for our health. Even if the climate crisis is accelerating, emphasize that together we can clean up our air and water and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Source – AAP

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