How to encourage sustainability with your children?
It can be challenging to encourage eco-friendly behaviours with your children. Although schools have started to integrate climate issues within their curriculum, it is probably not enough. You might feel that you have to do something yourself, but where can you start? You are already juggling with work, parental responsibilities, work-life balance, day to day commitment and probably even more. So, how can you integrate sustainability during your down time with your children? Here are a couple of ideas to help you with it.
Idea 1: Encourage and praise sustainable behaviours. Little things such as closing the tap while they brush their teeth or switching off the lights when they leave a room are the beginning of sustainable behaviours. Every single time they do something like that, praise them and encourage them to keep doing it. Sustainability has to be introduce at an early age. I was not told about sustainability when I was a child. It was not a thing at the time. My parents were really close to nature, they had a lot of respect for the environment and the planet, but I don’t think they were intentionally encouraging me and my brothers to do something to save the planet. Nowadays, we have to be a lot more proactive on that matter because there is a sense of urgency. We need to act now.
Idea 2: Teach them to never throw anything on the floor. No matter the age, no matter the place, throwing thrash on the floor is a bad habit. It is important to teach them to look for bins whether they are at home, at school or out at the park with their friends. Of course, leading by example is always efficient. Young children will copy their parents’ behaviour and they will try to do what you do. I pick up litter (little plastic bags, a packet of crips, cans…nothing harmful of course) that I find on my walks and take it to the closest bin. It’s a little act, but if children see us do it, they will do it too. Just to reassure everyone, I also hand sanitise every single time! Safety first!
Idea 3: Encourage them to go to places on foot or by bike (depending on their age of course). I am aware that it’s not always possible or safe and if you live in a big city you might have to give up on the idea of having them cycling around. But maybe you don’t and that’s another thing that you can do to encourage mindful behaviours. Beside, it’s also good for them to be out and about and stay active. The more time they spend outside, the better.
Idea 4: Teach them to respect nature, flowers, plants and trees. Children can understand from a very early age the importance of protecting nature. As a parent, you can play a big role by teaching them about the link between animals, nature and us. For example: flowers feed bees, bees make honey and honey is eaten by us. Teach them to love animals, even those who are ugly looking. Take them to a conservation zoo. They might be too young to understand the concept of endangered species, but your aim is to develop their love and curiosity for wildlife in general. When they grow up, they can learn about more complex issues surrounding it.
Idea 5: Have them do the recycling with you. There is nothing easier than having them involved in the house recycling. I remember that I used to love taking glass containers to the glass recycling place. I think it was because I loved listening to the sound of glass breaking when I threw it in the giant bin, but it did make me aware of the importance of recycling. Tell them about the different bins you use and why you use them. Make them aware of the importance of reducing packaging.
Idea 6: Be a role model yourself. There is no secret, if you don’t do anything to be more sustainable, it is going to be difficult to encourage your children to do it. Children are greatly influenced by their parents and your actions will in part define them as adults. I hear people saying that they don’t care about the environment in front of their children and I always wonder what’s going on in their children’s head when it happens. Our biggest problem in the world is that we send mixed messages to our children. Schools, TV shows and media are constantly telling us that we need to be more sustainable. At the same time, we are telling our kids that it’s not true. These mixed signals are detrimental to everyone. We need to speak with one voice if we want to change things.
Idea 7: Shop local and artisanal and involve them in the process. You could run an experiment: buy a supermarket tomato and one from a local market. Ask them to taste both and see which one they prefer. I bet it will be the latter! Talk about it with them and create curiosity. There is a common misconception that you are better off never buying quality food for your children because they cannot appreciate it. I am not going to say that it’s true or false, but I strongly believe that you can develop that preference for quality food. My grandmother used to make oven baked stuffed potatoes with foie gras (I know, foie gras is controversial, but that’s for another discussion..). I tried them the first time and then I started asking my mum to add foie gras to her stuffed potatoes. No need to tell you that it never happened. But, I was a kid and I could tell that it was a quality dish.
Idea 8: Show them nature and the truth about the environment. This is probably the hardest one. We do not want to see the ugliness of pollution and we certainly do not want them to see it. But it has to be shown and explained. Use it as an incentive to motivate them to change the course of history. What will we tell our children if we lie to them today to protect them from a future that they will have to deal with? What will we tell them when they turn back to us and ask us why we did nothing? Or why we did not encourage them to be more eco-friendly?
Idea 9: Get them to give away toys when they don’t need them anymore. Go through their toys with them, explain the whole process and have them choose which toys they want to donate. Teach them about the idea of repurposing an item or having it reused by another kid.
Idea 10: Involve them in whatever is going on in the garden. You just need a little garden, a small balcony or just a little plant pot. Have them choose a flower or a little tree. You could build a “insect hotel” or a “ladybird house” and then they can start inspecting all the little creatures living in it.
I think that the whole idea is to make them feel closer to nature and to make them want to protect it. You do not want to create fear or panic, but a sense of passion for the outside world. By developing their curiosity and their love for the planet, we are giving them the tools to build a better future and we are, ourselves, being more sustainable. I am not a parent yet, but if you know a couple of children books that are about sustainability and protecting the planet, please let me know about them I would be happy to share this info with everyone else. Simply leave a comment below!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article.
Jessica & La French Maison.