How to talk to kids about climate change with these 6 tips : Life Kit Today's kids are bombarded with the realities of climate change — whether through extreme weather or in the news. These tips will help you and your kids cope with the overwhelming feelings to move beyond helplessness and toward action.

Climate change is here. These 6 tips can help you talk to kids about it

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ANYA KAMENETZ, HOST:

This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Anya Kamenetz.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: I'm Cory Turner. And this is Shuo.

SHUO PESKOE-YANG: My name is Shuo Peskoe-Yang. And I am a baba (ph) and an organizer. Baba is dad in Mandarin.

TURNER: Shuo lives in Tarrytown, N.Y. And his daughter is now a toddler.

PESKOE-YANG: After my daughter was born, I kind of just started researching, like, what would the world look like in 2100 if we don't do anything? And essentially, you know, it seems like billions of people would die, which was crazy.

TURNER: If we don't do anything, that is, about climate change - and what he you learned kind of freaked him out.

PESKOE-YANG: Oh, my god, like, what's going on? I have to stop this.

KAMENETZ: So he made a promise to his baby girl.

PESKOE-YANG: I actually wrote a message to her. It's a little bit hard for me to talk about. But, you know, basically, it's that your future as it has been promised to, like, me and many others is not what that will be. And it's not what that will look like. I didn't know exactly about this before bringing you into this world. But I'm going to fight as hard as I can to give you the kind of future that I think you deserve and that other kids deserve.

TURNER: In this episode - how to parent through change.

KAMENETZ: Climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAMENETZ: OK. Let's talk kids and climate change.

TURNER: And we want to flag upfront that our message today is going to be different depending on where your kids are developmentally and emotionally.

KAMENETZ: Sure. So when there's still little, like Shuo's baby, primarily, this is about you - what to do with your feelings about the kind of world your children might be facing.

TURNER: Or, at least, where to start.

KAMENETZ: And then as our kids get a bit older, at least by late elementary school, in addition to taking care of our own needs as parents, we have some skills and strategies for you to share with your family.

TURNER: Yeah. And the good news here is - if there is some - that the skills they'll need in a changing world are actually really relevant to lots of situations not just to climate change.

KAMENETZ: Right, so let's dive right in, shall we?

TURNER: Yeah.

KAMENETZ: Takeaway No. 1 is talk about climate change.

JAYDEN FOYTLIN: It happened in the middle of the night when my mom wasn't home.

KAMENETZ: That's Jayden Foytlin. She's 16 years old. Her house in Rayne, La., flooded twice in a single year in 2016 in so-called 500-year storms. And she says it was extremely scary.

JAYDEN: We used pillows, blankets, rags, towels. We even used, like, pillowcases to try to soak up the water. But after a while, it just became too much. We knew that it was something that, like, was kind of unstoppable at this point.

TURNER: We'll hear more from Jayden later. But we just want to acknowledge that for a growing number of families all over the world, they absolutely can't avoid talking about the changing climate because it is literally at their front door.

KAMENETZ: And then there are the rest of us, who are reading the news maybe late at night on our phones, getting push notifications.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Climate change is real, and there's no doubt about it. Climate change is real, and there's no doubt about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Millions of young people took to the streets today to demand urgent action on climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We want justice. We want justice for this planet that...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NOEL KING, BYLINE: Oceans - ice is melting everywhere, and sea level rise is accelerating.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEXT NOTIFICATIONS SOUNDING)

GRETA THUNBERG: We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of economic growth. How dare you?

TURNER: In our hyper-connected world, the bad news about climate change can feel pretty relentless and stressful. No wonder so many people find it easier simply not talking about it.

KAMENETZ: It does feel that way to me too, Cory. But there's evidence that holding back on talking about climate is really hurting us. I talked to Matthew Schneider-Mayerson. He's an assistant professor of environmental studies at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. And he recently surveyed hundreds of people who are concerned about climate change and the choice to have children.

MATTHEW SCHNEIDER-MAYERSON: You know, I think even concern is probably too light a word. I would say probably the word anguish is more accurate.

TURNER: I feel that pain. Lots of time, I shut down because it just makes me feel so powerless.

KAMENETZ: Absolutely. And, you know, one thing that could help us would be reaching out for support. But despite the fact that this problem literally affects everyone in the world, we're just not talking to other people about it.

SCHNEIDER-MAYERSON: We seem to be more scared of upsetting the conversation than we are scared about climate change.

KAMENETZ: I can't help but wonder, Cory, what might shift if more people just spent time talking about this.

TURNER: I mean, at the very least, I can imagine we'd all feel a little less isolated.

KAMENETZ: Absolutely. So if you need a place to gather your thoughts, one concrete resource I want to make people know about is a website called Dear Tomorrow that guides people through the process of writing a letter kind of like Shuo's to someone you love and exploring your feelings about the year 2050.

TURNER: OK. So now we're going to pivot from talking about us grown-ups and our big feelings about climate change to the really hard part, which is how to talk to our kids about it.

KAMENETZ: This is a lot. We don't want to scare our kids or overwhelm them. We want to give you something really concrete and easy, maybe even something you can do today. And this is our takeaway No. 2. Start by going outside. I talked to a woman named Dawn Danby in Oakland, Calif.

DAWN DANBY: I've spent probably now 20 years working in sustainable design, technology and business.

TURNER: So Dawn thinks a lot about how to communicate about the realities of climate change.

DANBY: We've never run this experiment before of, like - how do we deliver this kind of news to the next generation or to the current generation to kind of help update their models of the planet? So, you know, how to not make a child feel scared or traumatized seems really important.

TURNER: And for Dawn, this is personal because she happens to be raising a 6-year-old daughter.

DANBY: She's a fierce little person whom I have not - I've not really talked to her about climate change directly.

KAMENETZ: And that's not because she didn't know what to say. It's because she wanted to start in a different place.

DANBY: I have a rationale around this that it's very hard to defend what you can't love.

KAMENETZ: So Dawn and her daughter spent a lot of time in nature hiking and camping.

DANBY: My focus with her is to really work with being outside.

TURNER: And the good news is you don't have to live near mountains or the forest to do this. Dawn says you can start with ants on the sidewalk.

DANBY: To look at the bugs and thank the bugs and think about what the bugs are doing and - you know, when there's a moment of expressing, like, oh, well, I like this animal or like this bug or this plant, starting to say, well, everything has a role to play here. We don't always know what they are.

TURNER: We also checked in with Rosemarie Truglio, who heads up curriculum and content at Sesame Workshop, and she agreed with Dawn on this very point about bugs - that kids need to have experiences with parts of nature that aren't immediately cute or cuddly.

ROSEMARIE TRUGLIO: So we did a wonderful episode where there's a bee on "Sesame Street," and they're fearful of a bee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

DAVID RUDMAN: (As Baby Bear) Don't sting me. Please don't sting me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Bee) Sting you? Why would I sting you? I don't sting unless I'm in danger.

CHRIS KNOWINGS: (As Chris) Oh, hey. What did I tell you?

TRUGLIO: And so it was a wonderful opportunity for us to explore all the wonderful things that bees do for us, and it was an example of us having a better understanding that we are all interconnected and helping children understand that.

TURNER: So tap into kids' natural fascination with the living world.

KAMENETZ: And then hopefully they'll be more ready to think about how we as humans may be changing that picture.

TURNER: But Anya, we still haven't gotten to how we actually talk with our kids about what climate change is.

KAMENETZ: Right. That's the hard part. And we know it's the hard part for many of you because we did a poll with Ipsos earlier this year, and we found fully 84% of parents agreed that children should be learning about climate change - Republicans, Democrats.

TURNER: Clearly, the vast majority of parents understand this is important. We need to be talking with our kids about climate change, but there's a problem.

KAMENETZ: In that same survey, only 45% of parents say they have actually talked to their own kids about it. And the numbers are similar among teachers, by the way, that we surveyed, which means, you know, you can't necessarily assume that the schools are going to do it for you. So here's our takeaway number three. Give your kids the basics.

TURNER: OK, so for a young kid - maybe 5 or 6 - you could say something like, humans are burning lots and lots of fossil fuels for energy in airplanes, in cars, to run our houses. And that is putting greenhouse gases into the air, and those gases are wrapping around the planet like a blanket and making everything hotter.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, and a hotter planet means bigger storms. It melts ice at the poles so oceans will rise. It makes it harder for our animals to find places to live. And this is a really, really big problem, and there are a lot of smart people working really hard on it, and there's a lot that we can do as a family to help.

TURNER: And if they have more questions, there are lots of great places to find free resources online, including from NASA and The Alliance for Climate Education.

KAMENETZ: One video I really like is this three-minute one called "Message From Antarctica."

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO "TRANS.MISSION - MESSAGE FROM ANTARCTICA")

SHANE SOLANKI: So what are the CO2 levels that we are recording today? They are much, much higher.

TURNER: Whenever we talk with our kids about hard, complicated things, we also want to be careful to listen, too. We can't control all the information. They're going to be hearing things on the news, in school. And they might be mixing some of it up.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, totally. Like, my daughter Lulu the other day - she mentioned something about how the planet was going to get so hot it exploded, and luckily, I was able to debunk that notion. But the thing that this issue in particular, Cory, is that the reality is also super scary.

TURNER: Yeah, so this gets us to our fourth takeaway, which might feel familiar to some of you who've listened to other episodes of this podcast. Focus on feelings first.

KAMENETZ: We're also working on an episode about anxiety, so let's hear from one of the families that responded to our call ad about that. It's from Amber in Huntsville, Ala., and she's talking about her daughter.

AMBER: When she was in the 3-year-old pre-K class, she learned that sea turtles will eat plastic in the ocean and die. To this day, she worries about that. If she sees litter, it's not just enough for her to pick it up and throw it away, which she'll do, but she'll bring up the sea turtles again, and she just - she will not let it go. She cannot let it go.

KAMENETZ: That sounds really hard, Cory. And, you know, I'm thinking about Amber here. She can't just tell her daughter to forget about the sea turtles, right?

TURNER: Right. And as all of our kids get older, this kind of worry is becoming pretty widespread. I mean, in a recent poll in The Washington Post, 7 in 10 teenagers said climate change will harm their generation. That's a bit more than us older generations.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. So, I mean, how do we actually help our kids cope with this new reality? Dr. Susie Burke actually specializes in this. She's a climate psychologist.

TURNER: Oh, I love that - climate psychologist. I've never heard of that before.

KAMENETZ: I know. It's so interesting. So she told me she has a special interest in...

SUSIE BURKE: How parents can raise children to thrive in a climate-altered world.

KAMENETZ: And this is very personal for Susie, who has three children.

BURKE: We did always have to be talking with the children about, you know, our bushfire plan.

TURNER: And she needed a bushfire plan because Susie and her kids - they were living out in the Australian bush, where the weather can be genuinely deadly.

BURKE: We used to have to do fire drills with the neighbors, and we'd have our equipment, you know, at the front door - the woolen jumpers and scarves to wrap around your mouth and good, sturdy shoes and gloves and things like that - if we ever had to leave in a hurry or if we ever got caught by surprise by a fire coming into the forest.

KAMENETZ: It's hard to imagine what it's like to put your kids through something like that. But from a psychological perspective, Susie says, there are some ways to buffer that kind of stress and to become more resilient to it.

TURNER: Yeah, and one of those strategies is to deal directly with the distressing emotions.

BURKE: So it's things that we do to dial ourselves back up again when we're feeling flat or to calm ourselves down if we're feeling really, you know, angry or really distressed. And so it's often things like spending time with people, you know, who we love and care for, doing positive activities. It might be also, you know, spending time in nature. It might be having a break from things.

TURNER: And all of this will help our kids in all sorts of tough situations. But Susie says, with something as big as climate change, you can't stop there.

KAMENETZ: No. This is not going to go away because we master our belly breaths.

TURNER: And that gets us to our next takeaway. Number five - support your kids in taking action.

KAMENETZ: Feelings are really important. But Susie Burke says another important way to help kids cope with a stressor like climate change is to actually deal with the problem directly.

BURKE: The things that we do to try to mitigate or to remove or to reduce the actual problem that is causing the stress.

KAMENETZ: She calls all of these things problem-focused coping.

TURNER: So this could include personal choices - like, for her family, limit driving.

BURKE: We always used to talk about taking the car as being - burning fossil fuels just to make it really obvious.

KAMENETZ: And Rosemarie Truglio from Sesame agreed with this. She says, kids need to feel a sense of control over their lives, and that includes control over some kind of problem that they're facing.

TRUGLIO: Well, maybe if I reduce my plastic or I pick up the trash when I'm walking along the beach and to make sure that doesn't go into the - like, I'm helping someone else. So I think that is - I think it's a great connection to talk about empathy and empathy with animals and the rest of our planet.

KAMENETZ: And at this point, we want to bring in another really knowledgeable voice to this conversation.

MILOU ALBRECHT: We're the school strikers from Castlemaine...

KAMENETZ: That's Milou Albrecht. She's Susie Burke's daughter, and she's 14 years old.

MILOU: ...To ask them if they will support our school strike.

KAMENETZ: That's Milou going door to door in her small town to ask local businesses to support the international school strike for climate. And she told me that activism has always been a way of life.

MILOU: When I was younger, we would go to local protests that my mom and other parents in the community organized. So going to them - you were always learning about new things, and that was kind of, like, a discussion in itself.

TURNER: And she also said it was a lot of fun.

MILOU: Yeah, heaps of fun.

KAMENETZ: She would be with all her friends. They would sing songs and play games.

TURNER: Jayden Foytlin, the teenager from Louisiana we heard at the top - well, she also grew up in a fairly similar way. She has five siblings. Their mother, Cherri Foytlin, has fought oil pipelines in Louisiana and is now a board member of the group Extinction Rebellion. This is Cherri.

CHERRI FOYTLIN: Some families - they play baseball. And some families - they take their kids to ballet. Well, it's always been a family function for us - or has been for a long time - to go to marches or to go to meetings or to meet with the community and learn how to organize the community. And so my kids are very active in that.

KAMENETZ: And now that Cherri's daughter Jayden is 16, she's become 1 of 21 youth plaintiffs of a case called Juliana v. the United States. And these are young people from all over the country suing the federal government for violating their rights to a livable planet. So she's balancing schoolwork, her love of drawing and court appearances. And Jayden says it's all about...

JAYDEN: Showing people that youth voices do matter. And this is something that has to be taken seriously, or we will lose lives.

TURNER: Last year, when Milou Albrecht, Susie Burke's daughter, was 13, she started her own activist effort.

MILOU: I read an article on Greta Thunberg from the Guardian. And you know, as everyone is...

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THUNBERG: My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old, and I'm from Sweden.

MILOU: ...I was totally inspired by her. And I was, you know, so blown away by her bravery. So I thought to myself, I could do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THUNBERG: But I've learned that you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.

TURNER: Milou became a founder of the national School Strike 4 Climate in Australia.

KAMENETZ: And on September 20 of this past year, Milou and Susie and their community marched with an estimated 150,000 people in Melbourne, Australia.

BURKE: When Milou had read this article about Greta in the Guardian and said, I could do that, I said, yes, you could. You know, I'm happy to help you in - do that if, you know, that's something that you're interested in. And the reason why I was so quick to jump on it was because I had just been writing this tip sheet about the importance of civic engagement for young people's positive development.

KAMENETZ: I love that. It just sounds so nerdy. It sounds like something I would do, honestly.

TURNER: (Laughter) It really does. And Susie says getting involved with a cause they care about...

BURKE: Fits beautifully with the skills and qualities that we know are great for children to develop in order for them to thrive as adults.

TURNER: And it's kind of amazing to think that just in the last year, teenagers have really become the face of global activism. This is The Washington Post survey again - 1 in 4 American teens say they've personally taken some sort of action on the climate.

KAMENETZ: But Susie reminds us that this has to be child-led. Milou has two older brothers, and they're not quite as interested as she is in all this activism. I mean, they go to the big strikes, but their priorities are their studies. And they're really serious cyclists, as well.

TURNER: And that is perfectly OK. Our kids are who they are.

KAMENETZ: That's right. By the way, if you are looking for more ideas to get involved as a family, there's a book by Mary DeMocker called "The Parents' Guide To Climate Revolution," and it has a hundred different suggestions, no matter your time or your budget or your level of interest.

TURNER: Here's one - start a tradition of secondhand or homemade holiday presents, or try throwing a neighborhood party where you put together disaster kits.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. I like that. And just to get it straight from the source, I asked Milou, what is the single most important thing your parents do to support you?

MILOU: Some of the most important ways they support me would be listening to me and providing helpful information and helpful support, but also kind of stepping back and let me do my thing.

TURNER: And for Cherri, she also makes sure that her daughter has a regular life, too.

FOYTLIN: She's just like every other kid. She, you know, goes to the school dances. She went to prom. She's going to try out for the basketball team this year. She giggles and laughs and goofs around and has a little boyfriend and...

(LAUGHTER)

FOYTLIN: ...All those things that 16-year-olds do. The only difference is her mind and her heart is so passionate about this issue and about protecting life that is - she's just inspiring to me, to be honest.

TURNER: All right. So why don't we take a step back now and review. First, this is for you, parents. Talk about climate change. Talk about what's happening. Talk about your feelings. Don't sit alone with the news.

KAMENETZ: That's right. Maybe play this for people that you love. Second, when it comes to my parenting, I'm going to make a big effort to expose my kids to more nature. And that is good for them in all kinds of ways because like Dawn Danby said...

DANBY: It's very hard to defend what you can't love.

TURNER: Takeaway No. 3 - make sure your kids have the basic facts about climate change. And fourth, if your kids are getting upset about something they learn about - and hey, I mean, it's upsetting stuff - we start by dealing with those feelings first.

KAMENETZ: And our final takeaway is support your kids in taking action. And as you think about that, there's just one more thing to keep in mind. Susie Burke says another big-picture way to deal with a stressor like climate change is how you think about and frame the problem - what she calls meaning-focused coping - and, for example, encouraging your kids to look out and see the people that are helping.

BURKE: Looking out to see all the other people in the world or around the world who are working really hard on solutions to climate change or working really hard to change government policy and to be heartened by the efforts that other people are making.

KAMENETZ: In other words, remember, we're not alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TURNER: Thanks to Susie Burke and her daughter Milou Albrecht, Cherri Foytlin and her daughter Jayden, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Dawn Danby, Rosemarie Truglio and Shuo Peskoe-Yang.

KAMENETZ: Thanks also to Britt Wray, Josephine Ferorelli and Meghan Kallman and Renee Lertzman, and Meritt Juliano of the Climate Psychology Alliance North America.

TURNER: For more NPR LIFE KIT, head over to npr.org/lifekit. We've got episodes about everything from body acceptance to dealing with tough moments in friendships. And while you're there, subscribe to our newsletter so you don't miss an episode.

KAMENETZ: And here, as always, is a completely random tip, this time from listener Sarah Comer.

SARAH COMER: If you find yourself abroad, here's an easy hack for converting the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit in your head, give or take a few degrees. Take the Celsius degree, double it and add 30. This will give you an approximate Fahrenheit temperature. For example, 20 degrees Celsius doubled is 40, plus 30 degrees brings it to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

KAMENETZ: If you've got a good tip or you want to suggest a topic, email us at lifekit@npr.org.

TURNER: This episode was produced by Meghan Keane, who is also our managing producer.

I'm Cory Turner.

KAMENETZ: I'm Anya Kamenetz. Thank you for listening.

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