I recently had a bad parenting moment.
My five-year old daughter approached me on Christmas Eve day. She was confused, understandably so. It was 70 degrees outside, the warmest Christmas in New England history. “Mommy, it’s suppose to snow on Christmas!”
I, too, was dismayed. There had been talk of an El Niño winter but I wasn’t completely buying it. Preoccupied about the effects of climate change I offered a haphazard response.
“Well, honey, there’s this thing called global warming caused by human activity and it’s hurting the earth. Here, have a ginger snap.”
Instantly, her lip began to quiver, “Mommy, I want it to snow!”
I back-pedaled. “So do I. We need the next generation of scientists to help heal the planet. Do you think you want to be a scientist?”
“NO! I want to work with penguins in the North Pole, remember?!”
“Well, global warming has everything to do with penguins because the polar ice caps are melting, and the penguins need us to help save their habitat.”
“MOM!” We were now approaching a meltdown in my kitchen. “I just want it to snow!”
Realizing that I had just dumped the weight of the polluted world on my magically thinking five-year old, I had to engage in damage control, and quickly. I had to try and make this right.
The truth is I’d love to avoid discussing certain things with my kids all together: sex, drugs, cyber bullying, terrorism… all these subjects are looming darkly on my parental horizon, along with who-knows what else in the coming years. Climate change is one of these subjects.
It’s innately depressing – no, terrifying – to me.
However, talk of climate change is everywhere: on the news and radio, at the dinner table. It’s also happening outside our doors, to the point where even my five-year old daughter is taking note.
I figured her plea for a white Christmas was an invitation to broach the subject. So, after the initial trauma of my first attempt, I suggested that she and I go outside for a walk.
Clearly, I’m no scientist. Discussing carbon emissions and the green house effect is not my strong suit. But I figured with a preschooler I could get away with keeping it simple. I’d relate climate change to a concept she could grasp: health.
First, I asked my daughter how people keep their bodies healthy. She had some solid answers: by eating fruits and vegetable; by exercising and having fun playing outside. I added that by learning new things we exercise our brains, which is also important, as is getting a good night’s sleep, being loved, cared for and giving love back.
All of these factors contribute to a healthy person.
Next, I asked her how we could keep the earth healthy.
Again, I was impressed by her response: by growing plants, by not littering and cleaning up garbage. Turns out she already had an understanding about the interconnectedness of eco-systems, and how if one part is unhealthy it affects the health of other parts.
We discussed the importance of conserving natural resources and the miraculous ways we can use renewable energy generated by the sun, wind and water to power our homes and communities. We talked about the importance of eating foods grown without the use of chemicals and the benefits of having a garden.
The conversation meandered, and that’s okay. I let my daughter’s questions and curiosities guide the conversation. By the end of our walk, we were both feeling optimistic. Together we had created a context for discussing a complicated concept. Instead of feeling bummed out about the lack of winter, we were outside talking about how to engage with the issue.
Then together we came up with a game plan, because who doesn’t love a game?
Simple actions any five-year old can do to promote a healthy earth:
- Not waste food.
- Put food scraps in the compost.
- Conserve energy by turning off lights that are not in use.
- Conserve water by shutting off the faucet while brushing our teeth.
- Plant something – being that it’s winter, we made plans for a bigger garden.
- Participate in our neighborhood clean up in the spring.
And last but not least…
- Go for more walks
The older my daughter gets, the more we will to add to our list but this was a good start. Thankfully, our walk/talk had made her feel empowered rather than fearful about the issue.
Thankfully, our walk/talk had made her feel empowered rather than fearful about the issue.
Even though the reality of climate change scares me – a lot – the last thing I want to do is burden my children with harsh realities.
On the contrary, it’s my job to inspire them, to give them tools for positive change and impart to them a sense of stewardship and reverence for the planet. Our stroll on that balmy Christmas Eve day was a step in the right direction.