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The importance of explaining climate change to children

© Lars Ploughmann/ Flickr

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Constanze Niedermaier, author of the book “33 Things to Talk to Kids About Global Challenges,"at a dinner party in New York. We got to talking and quickly realized that we were both in the world of advocacy. Her mission: to facilitate meaningful conversations between families about important topics such as biodiversity, global warming, agriculture, dignity, and moral values. My mission: to empower young people to fight climate change and to be a part of the movement to create a more sustainable future for local and indigenous communities while conserving forests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting wildlife. I thought it was extremely interesting that her efforts were focused on children, an age group that I think unfairly gets left out of these important conversations. After all, it is THEIR future that is at risk, it only seems right that they would be included in the dialogue. So, I decided to interview her to learn more about her work and to share her story. This is what we discussed:    

bookandebookimage.jpgImage: Constanze Niedermaier

Natalie: “So who exactly is your target audience?”

Constanze:Our books are written for parents of 7 to 12 year old children. At this age kids are old enough to understand what is going on in the world and are eager to make a difference. We help parents with their efforts of raising global citizens by providing content that supports meaningful family conversations.” 

Natalie: “That seems like an awesome and important endeavor! What is the message you are trying to send?” 

Constanze: “We want children to understand that everything in the world is interrelated and that everything they do or don’t do has an impact on people and planet. And we want families to know that no child is too young to make a difference. We as parents need to give them that confidence early on.” 

Natalie: “How do you tell the scary story of the climate crisis to young children, without devastating them but still educating them?”

Constanze: “Two very important concepts in raising children are empowerment and reassurance. We want to empower our children to stand up for themselves, believe in their abilities, and make their own decisions. And we want to reassure them about a safe and happy life. I believe that a non-frightening explanation of the causes and the impacts of climate change, together with ideas about how to make a difference, is empowering and reassuring to our kids because we take them seriously and show them how to help. Adding examples that prove that change is possible, like the case of the Ozone hole, motivate children(and adults) even more to help save the planet.

My instinct also tells me to shield my children from all bad news. However the experience with my kids has shown, that if I choose an age appropriate language as well as an amount of information they can process, and if I show them that there are ways to improve a situation, it is much better to discuss a serious topic than to keep quiet. As Mr. Rogers always said “Look for the helpers”.

Natalie: “Why do you believe children are such a critical audience for understanding climate change?” 

Constanze: “Children are very eager and enthusiastic to help because they possess a natural empathy. If you encourage kids to make better choices, chances are that they will convince their parents to change their lifestyle too.

Another reason is that habits are formed early on in life. If we can create awareness for the impact all our choices have, like for example how much meat our families consume, we have a chance to influence lifelong habits. Let’s not forget, our children are the future consumers, leaders, decision makers, and inheritors of the earth, we better raise them with the right attitudes.”

Natalie: “What can children do to make a difference?”

Constanze: “Eat more vegetables (instead of meat and seafood) is the one single most important thing everyone can do.

The other thing is to be mindful, to think twice about your decisions – for example if yet another new toy or electronic gadget needs to be bought, if food should be thrown away, or those birthday balloons need to be released into the air.”

Natalie: “What role do you think parents have in educating their families about climate?”

Constanze: “The most important one. Children imitate mom and dad’s behavior, they learn their values from their parents. Even though school might be the place where children hear about climate and climate change first, it’s the families that validate the information for young children. If there is no support at home, most children will pick the easy way and go with the flow.”  

Natalie: “What do you want global citizens to know about the work that you do?” 

Constanze: “My goal is to help parents talk with their kids. Our children spend a lot of time on their devices and the whole family’s busy schedules leave hardly any time for family conversations. By providing answers to kids’ never ending ‘Why’ questions, advice on how to talk about serious issues, and books that use everyday objects as conversation starters for complex topics, we try to empower parents to build strong communication relationships with their kids. Ultimately my vision is a young generation of deeply respectful people that are committed to making a difference in the world.

Natalie: “Anything else you think would be important to share?”  

Constanze: ”There are two wonderful Dr. Seuss quotes we should share with our children: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not!” and “Kid, you’ll move mountains.”

I couldn’t agree more with Constanze about the importance of raising a generation of global citizens that deeply cares about the world and that feels empowered to make a positive difference. Thank  you for the incredible work that you do! I hope all you global citizen parents out there feel inspired to communicate with your children about these kinds of issues!