How to talk to children about climate change

How to talk to children about climate change

"She wants to be honest, but she doesn't want to scare them"

Posted on 14.01.2020

When it comes to talking to her two primary school aged kids about climate change, Nina Roberts chooses her words carefully.

She wants to be honest, but she doesn’t want to scare them.

So even though she thinks adults “need to switch into an emergency mode”, she doesn’t use the word ’emergency’ with her kids.

“The burden of that is on adults,” she says.

“I don’t want them feeling like as children they have to be in emergency mode, because I actually think that’s not a fair thing for kids to be feeling.”

But not everyone agrees that toning down the language is the right approach.

So just how do you respond when kids ask curly questions about climate change, or are feeling overwhelmed about the future they may face?

The Roberts family has a strong connection with nature that began with simply spending time outdoors — camping, gardening, visiting beaches and forests.

“That’s mostly where their strong feelings of wanting to get active are currently coming from,” says Ms Roberts, who is a member of Australian Parents for Climate Action.

“I fear for their future, but they are fearing for the places that they love.”


Environmental psychologist and therapist Dr Susie Burke co-wrote the Australian Psychological Society guidelines on talking to children about climate change.

She says parents have a moral responsibility to protect their children — and that includes being active in the climate change debate.

“Climate change threatens their children’s future so strongly than anything else does at the moment,” Dr Burke says.

But, she says, it’s vital for parents to talk in age-appropriate terms.

“It’s quite easy for younger children to be thinking that climate change is an imminent threat to their lives and to their family’s lives because of the use of the language like ‘climate emergency’ and things like that,” she says.

“This is a huge problem. However, not to their immediate lives.”

What to say to very young children

What to say to very young children

  • Talk about the environmentally-friendly things you do every day.
  • “We put food scraps in the compost bin, so the worms and other little creatures can make good soil for growing veggies and flowers.”
  • “Let’s buy these apples and pop them in our own bag, not those ones which have all that plastic around them.”

*Source: Australian Psychological Society

For primary school-aged children

For primary school-aged children

  • Keep to simple but honest answers.
  • “The Earth is getting hotter because we have used too much stuff like petrol, gas and plastic.”
  • “We have to save water because we haven’t had as much rain as usual this year because the climate is changing.

*Source: Australian Psychological Society

No matter what age be sure to:

No matter what age be sure to:

  • Point out many people are working to stop the climate changing too much.
  • Explain that there are things that everyone can do to help like recycling or writing letters.
  • Point out that big problems have been solved in the past through many people working together.
  • Discuss what you and your child can do to make a difference.

*Source: Australian Psychological Society

Julie Gaul from the NSW Early Childhood Environmental Education Network, who says it’s important to “offer hope rather than panic“.

“We all need to know that we can make a difference and by all of us doing something small, we can contribute to a bigger picture,” she says.

“Children are very capable, and competent, and resilient really.”


Sarah Scopelianos
ABC News





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