It’s hard to know how to talk to kids about climate change. Children can’t help but be aware of bad climate news, but parents must also provide comfort and hope for their future. There is reason to be hopeful, and reason to be fearful. Most importantly for kids, the loss of plant and animal life is a deeply felt grief. Kids want to talk about climate change, and they look to their parents to provide wisdom and guidance.
To help parents with these climate conversations, psychiatrists from the Climate Committee of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry developed a book, Coco’s Fire: Turning Climate Anxiety into Climate Action, a delightful and exquisitely illustrated story of a young squirrel, freaked by a forest fire that threatens the home of her Aunt Hazel (nut – get it?). Readers from areas of British Columbia affected by last summer’s fires will be all too familiar with these fears.
Coco’s Fire teaches kid-friendly techniques for dealing with climate anxiety and incorporates the features of an ideal climate talk, vetted by experts in eco-anxiety and the psychological development of children. It provides a six-step talk, marked by acorns in the text. Over the course of the story, Coco is also connected to the thriving community of scientists, activists and politicians already working to address the climate crisis.
Six-Step Talk About Climate Change
- Introduce the topic of climate change by finding out what the child already knows.
- Explaining the science of climate change simply but completely.
- Describe the problem infused with hope, but without sugar coating the ramifications.
- Discuss approachable ways to get involved in addressing climate change.
- Open the discussion for future conversations.
- Conclude by inspiring a sense of wonder in children about the natural world.
The psychologically savvy parent will notice a good number of psychotherapy techniques embedded in the story: deep breathing, active listening, mirroring, supportive interpretation, and cognitive reframing. Coco’s Fire is written for children ages 6-10, and is tailored to the concrete operational stage of cognitive development of this audience. To this end, anxiety is personified in the form of a little fire creature that concretely embodies the cognitive reframing process as Coco copes with her anxiety. The little fire changes from “scary red” to a “cool blue” as she transforms her anxiety into effective activities.
Coco’s Fire is grounded in scientific literature and can help children overwhelmed by climate distress as well as helping to educate children about climate change in a psychologically-informed and sensitive way.
More importantly, Coco’s Fire is a good story, inspired by other environmental classics like The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. Climate change is serious, but focusing on what we most enjoy and want to protect makes addressing it easier. The natural world is glorious, and our love of it guides us all to do what we must do to transition to more sustainable, and often more enjoyable, ways of being in the world. Reading can connect you to your child, and your child to a hopeful future.
3 More Children’s books on Climate Change
Greta and the Giants – Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s work to bring awareness to the world’s climate crisis, this vibrant and thoughtful story introduces the importance of consciously taking care of the world around us. Told in allegory, this lovely picture book shares Greta’s message in a way that is easy for even the littlest eyes and ears to understand.
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss – The story is commonly recognized as a fable concerning the danger of human destruction of the natural environment, using the literary element of personification to create relatable characters for industry (as the Once-ler), the environment (being the Truffula trees) and activism (as the Lorax). The story encourages personal care and involvement in making the situation better: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Fever at the Poles – Provide even the youngest readers information about Earth, the changes in climate and its affects on the poles, and what they can do to help preserve our planet.