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Climate Change and a Child's Confusion

If the oceans are rising, will we all drown?

That's a question 8-year-old Molly asked after overhearing a conversation about climate change. 

Recent media hype surrounding the planet's changing climate, including talk about rising temperatures, flash droughts, flash floods, more intense hurricanes and more unpredictable weather patterns, can create questions, confusion and fear. This is especially true for young children (under the age of 10). They typically lack the cognitive skills to process complex information, which means they can have a distorted sense of time, place and distance.

Because climate change is a complicated (often controversial) subject, many parents don't like to delve into the issue too deeply. That's understandable. But if you have a child like Molly, who's asking questions or is worried about the future, you don't have to be a scientist to provide some answers and comfort.         

Here are a few things you can do to lessen your child's weather worries:

  • Answer questions honestly but be willing to admit when you don't know.
  • Clear up any confusion between weather (what's happening today) and climate (weather conditions over a long period of time).
  • Watch news programs and read articles/children's books about climate change.
  • Be optimistic. Remind your kids that many scientists and regular folks are working every day to learn more about the issue and lessen its negative effects.
  • Give your children a sense of control by letting them do something positive for the environment (recycle, plant a garden, etc.).
  • As a family, spend time in nature.  
  • With young children, monitor and limit media exposure related to environmental and weather disasters. 
  • Model environmentally friendly behaviors (recycle, avoid plastic grocery bags, conserve energy, etc.)
  • Listen and empathize with your children's feelings.