Parents schooled in environmental principles strive to guide their children in like-minded directions. How can we inspire them to join in addressing larger challenges without coming across as a lecturer about yet another obligation? Thankfully, there are many ways to make green living a feel-good, even easy and fun habit.
The most important factor is to live as an example. Parents best teach children to buy less by buying less themselves. Discuss various considerations and ask for their opinions.
According to a recent study by Empower MediaMarketing, kids see 12 to 14 minutes of commercials for every hour of television screen time. Talk about ads that target kids and how some retailers manipulate young audiences. Compare the advertised benefits of a new toy with their own experiences with it; does it measure up?
Give kids attractive options and practice in making choices. “I tell them what a product contains and if it’s proven to cause health problems,” says Mary Marsh, a mother of three in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “I also will tell them about a natural alternative. I really want them to make these important decisions themselves. I can’t decide for them later on.”
Challenge children to find reusable alternatives to disposable household items. Turn it into a game; conduct experiments to see how well the alternatives work and try their ideas.
Put a spin on recycling. Instead of rinsing milk jugs and putting them out for recycling, save some to create an igloo indoors. Unwind that old sweater and use it in artwork. Cut apart old jeans and turn them into skirts. Decorate glass jars and repurpose them as storage for pantry foods and miscellany.
Take children to the local dump to identify items that could be recycled or reused. University of Utah research attests that half of all U.S. garbage could be recycled. In practice, we settle for about 2 percent.
Encourage youngsters to make their opinions known. When a toy’s package is much larger than it needs to be, help them write the maker a letter asking the manufacturer to green their business.
Help children become experts. “Kids can inspire their friends and parents to be more environmentally conscious,” advises Dr. Moshe Lewis, chief of physical medicine and rehab at the California Pacific Medical Center, in San Francisco.
Surround the family with nature. “Kids are naturally curious. As they learn about the natural habitat of animals, their importance in the ecosystem and how beautiful they are, they develop an appreciation for the diverse flora and fauna species on Earth,” says Lewis.
Barbara Smith started the Bow Wow Meow Kids Club at the Almost Home humane shelter, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, so that more children could visit the animals. “Volunteering at the shelter has more benefits for kids than just playing with cats and dogs,” says Smith. “It teaches how to be kind, how to earn trust and try to heal. It teaches them to be humane.”
Involve kids in choosing good food. “I like to produce some food at home so we can lessen our footprints a bit more,” says Marsh. Two of her children help care for the family’s quails and collect eggs. The third creates cartoons about the downside of factory farms.
Environmental challenges can appear daunting, and may make children feel fearful or even guilty that they can’t help. A parent can help calm their nerves, offer constructive perspective and help them feel like part of the solution.
“Keep the tone of conversation on possibilities, rather than impending doom,” counsels Licensed Mental Health Counselor Brooke Randolph, of Indianapolis, Indiana. “Focus on what could happen, instead of what will.”
Look for the positives. “A single choice is not causing global warming or the extinction of a species; rather, it is a build-up of several choices, made by many people, over and over again.” Talk about current incremental changes that are helping.
Make doable, Earth-friendly goals and act together to make a difference. “No matter how small it is,” says Randolph, “if children feel they are doing something positive, they can feel more in control.”
Finally, encourage self-expression. “For kids, being able to verbalize or express their feelings is critical,” says Lewis. “Sometimes, this requires more than just talk therapy. I have found that art and other creative expressions are a way to work through various emotions.”
Hilary Ferrand is a freelance writer in Fort Dodge, Iowa.