Being a parent comes with great responsibilities, and one of them is to raise tomorrow’s adults to the best of our ability. As they grow up and become older, we hope to instill in them some of our values. But in a world where consumerism is glorified, where over-consumption is normalized, how can we teach them sustainable habits while they’re still young?
I believe it’s by leading by example, taking the time to explain to our kids the why and the how, and answering the many questions that come up in those conversations that we can help them grow up into open, conscious citizens.
Children are like sponges. They are constantly soaking up information and processing it at an astounding rate. Of course, we all learn during the entire course of our lives, but think about it: the older we get, the more this process becomes complex. Sometimes, we need to deconstruct certain assumptions or change our habits and behavior, which certainly doesn’t happen instantly!
Lead by example
Children learn a lot by imitating and modeling behaviors. If you want to teach your children how to live a sustainable life, it’s essential that your actions match your words. Sometimes the most powerful way to impart your values isn’t to lecture them about waste reduction. Instead, teach them how to compost, how to reuse, how to recycle. Involve them in your everyday actions, talk to them about the ways your family could reduce its environmental impact and ask for their input.
Children are extremely creative, and you could be pleasantly surprised by their suggestions! You’ll soon realize they have mastered certain concepts. They’ll even get a kick out of pointing out your contradictions and hypocrisies, like my daughter did when she found an evil disposable fork in her father’s lunchbox.
Take the time to explain why
Children are starved for knowledge. Unsurprisingly, for some parents, the “why” phase might seem like it will never end. While those questions might become irritating for parents (who end up feeling like walking, talking encyclopedias), you can take advantage of the situation. Your child is asking a thousand questions in order to understand the world, and that’s the perfect way to satisfy their curiosity.
Your child wants to know how leftovers become compost? Why not head to the library and find a book on the subject. They want to understand why plastics, especially single-use items, are so bad for the environment? You can easily find short videos on YouTube that will show things like the Great Pacific garbage patch and the effects of plastic waste on wildlife. The cause and effect relationship is always easier to show than to tell, and a visual support can be particularly helpful. Obviously, you don’t want to traumatize your child, but if you choose your support well, it can be a great way to illustrate that our actions have consequences on the environment.
Some children are more sensitive than others and, for example, seeing marine animals suffering because of plastic waste might cause some anxiety for them. You know your children best, and you know what kind of content is most appropriate for them. You can find tons of books about ecology, pollution or the environment in the "Youth Documentary" section of most municipal libraries. Don't hesitate to use this resource or ask a librarian for advice
I truly believe that it's by getting our children interested in these topics that we can help them adopt sustainable and responsible life habits Watching all these little humans growing up around me, I’m confident that the behaviours they acquire now will make them into adults who are aware of the impact of their actions on the environment and who will adopt habits that are sustainable, both for themselves and for the planet. Let's inspire them and make them into actors of change!
A few educational and fun activity suggestions:
- Build an igloo with plastic jugs - reuse empty jugs by gluing them together with non-toxic glue to make a polar refuge - here's an article and video on how to proceed.
- Make your own bird feeders - it's a lovely way to help kids connect with nature!
- Plant a tree - kids will be able to watch it grow at the same time as they grow themselves!
- Join a community garden - it's a great way to teach kids where food comes from and what it takes for it to grow - and they'll love cooking with the fruits of their labour!