If you are thinking about how to teach your children about eco-friendly living, you may be wondering how to make those choices stick.
First of all, let go! Their choices will be their choices. Once you let go, you can be more easy going about the process of teaching your children.
Creating sustainable habits is an important start. By modeling eco-friendly choices and behaviors, your children will see WHAT to do.
To give your children tools they can use into the future, though, you need to help them understand HOW and WHY your family does what you do. Share with them your underlying reasons for your actions.
Start the conversation
Talk with your children. Share the decision making. Make sure they have power to make choices that will have real impact, so they feel responsibility for what they choose. They will remember the choices as well as the decision making process better if they are genuinely involved.
Encourage questions and curiosity
If you children ask questions, answer them with only as much information as they can take on using vocabulary they understand. Teach them how you get your information. Especially if they are older, invite them to do their own research and be part of the effort to reduce your household impact. They can deal with more information as they get older and have more points of reference.
Create points of reference
Read stories about sustainability, and bring those stories back to a family reference. For a place to start, check out 30 great books that teach children to be green. Your local library may even have a lot of these books grouped together on the shelf. When your child knows a lot of stories about efforts to lower environmental impact, it gets easier to see the relationship of those choices to self.
Hold family meetings on green topics
Family meetings give an opportunity for short, focused discussion on a topic. At one family meeting, my family gathered around our utility bills and asked how we could use less energy and water. Once we shifted from talking about it to giving the children a puzzle to solve, they were more curious and more engaged. They took ownership of their suggestions, and they remember better what commitments they made to meet our targets. Because they suggested not turning on the lights during the day, they are now more likely to sit by the window or go outside to read instead of turning on the light.
Don’t scare them
Children are sensitive. I made the mistake of giving too much information too early. Saying, “If the sea rises another meter, the lane in front of Granny’s house will be covered in water,” was a frightening concept to an 8-year old. Oops. What is just an interesting fact to you might be more than your child can comfortably process. Watch carefully as your child is talking and listening, and adjust as your discussion progresses to keep from making the conversation too scary. Sure, it’s important to be realistic, but you want your children to be motivated to take action.
The key is engagement. Give your children a little information at a time, and let them arrive on their own at the place where it clicks.