We live in a rapidly changing world full of major challenges. Some of them concern the issue of the climate in which our children and grandchildren will have to grow up. The future of the next generations depends on us and our children. This is why today ecology means making a specific decision, having an attitude or being a conscious and committed citizen rather than just a lifestyle choice. What other reasons are there for raising children in the spirit of ecology and how can we do this? Read the post to find out.
Benefits on the macro and micro scale
Taking care of Mother Earth together, changing our daily habits into sustainable ones, choosing green energy, giving up a car in favour of a bike, limiting the consumption of meat – all of this is incredibly important and if practised on a large scale then we have a chance of changing the fate of our planet for the better. Caring about the environment also has a positive impact on the individual growth of people, and this perspective will be definitely close to the heart of every parent. Ecology draws from many areas of science and knowledge: geography, physics, chemistry, biology but also ethics and social sciences. An ecological upbringing is obviously not about explaining the intricacies of physics or the causes of glacier melting to young children. It is not necessary. Even the tiniest and the most local observation of nature expands the knowledge, raises the awareness and expands the horizons of a young person.
Empathy and sensitivity
Close contact with nature from early childhood develops empathy and sensitivity in humans. An ecological attitude cannot exist without receptiveness to the needs of others. By teaching a child to respect people, animals, plants and inanimate nature, you are raising a wise and sensitive person who will not stay indifferent to someone’s harm in adult life. The innate empathy level can differ between children. There are also no rules as to when a person experiences this emotion for the first time. Regardless of the level of compassion towards others exhibited by your child, you can always try to reinforce and nurture this feeling within them, preferably through contact with art, literature and nature.
Cause and effect
Another incredibly important factor in an ecological upbringing is to teach the child causative thinking and help them to realise that in nature everything is interconnected, with humans being neither better nor worse than other beings, simply forming a part of a bigger whole. The majority of today’s climate and environmental problems arise from the fact that we as people have forgotten about this perspective. Such thinking may seem too complex and abstract for children who are just a few years old, but the truth is that everything comes down to how the knowledge is served. While on the beach with a young child, you can just say that by throwing a plastic wrapper in the bin you prevent it from getting into the sea and being swallowed by a fish. I am sure you can find plenty of similar examples in your daily life.
How can you encourage a child to take care of the environment?
Practising empathy and causative thinking is the kind of groundwork that needs to be done on a daily basis if you want to bring up an ecologically aware child. And what should you do in practice?
Children learn by observing and copying adults, so your daily actions are incredibly important. Try to be a good role model for your child: sort waste, turn off the light when you do not need it, turn off the water while brushing your teeth, opt for a shower instead of a bath and pick a bike rather than a car.
Teach the child that milk is not created in the box and the pork chop does not appear on the plate from nowhere. Make them aware of the complexity of food distribution in the modern world and of the long way that the banana they are having for a snack has travelled. The same applies to clothes, toys and any electronic equipment. Children should realise that the objects they use are created of materials which are extracted or created somewhere and by someone, and rather than magically disappearing in the end they stay with us on Earth. With this perspective, the child learns to respect the goods it has and starts to wonder if they need so many of them. Just remember that fully understanding the complex processes requires abstract thinking – an ability that develops around the age of 12. Still, there is nothing to prevent you from reaching the child with your message sooner. Use all the creativity you have!
This may be tremendously enjoyable for the whole family! Learn to sort waste together, assign waste containers, label them on your own, and engage all the household members in using them. You can even award one another with points or smiley faces for every properly discarded piece of packaging.
Clothes, books, toys, computer hardware – all this can and even should get a second, third and subsequent life. Convince children that ‘used’ does not mean ‘worse.’ Any DIY task can be helpful in teaching this rule. Collect empty toilet paper rolls, egg shells, bottle caps and many other waste items to create art works.
You do not have a house near a forest or in the countryside. Interactions with nature are also possible in the city, especially if you are a child and the world seems really huge. Make sure your children spend as much time outdoors as possible, especially in the park, in the yard, or in the garden. Let them get dirty, jump in puddles and pick up snails. Childhood is the best time to get really close to nature and thus better understand and respect it.
Caring about a tiny helpless creature is the best way to teach humans empathy – you have seen this for yourself. If your financial situation and living conditions so permit, take in a cat, a dog or another pet. Children raised with animals learn to be responsible and take care of others. You can also go on holidays to a farm where the children can see a chicken or a pig close up – this is bound to leave a great impression!
Let caring about the environment be a vivid topic at your home. Rather than tossing a list of lifeless rules, bans and orders at your children, talk, discuss, convince each other, seek answers from wise sources.
Climate depression – what should you do about tough issues?
Psychologists all over the world are already reporting a “climate depression,” which is the teenagers’ fear for their own future and for the future or the planet. Openly discuss this fear with your children, in a way suitable for their age, but also reinforce the sense of agency in the children and help them believe that a lot can be still done and that it all depends on us. An ecological upbringing brings us closer to making a difference.