“How do you raise an eco-friendly kid?” someone in the audience asked. I wanted to say, “Well you live as an eco-friendly parent, and then you’ll have eco-friendly kids,” but it sounded too self-righteous and simplistic. So I paused. Because I’ve learned self-righteousness rarely works in parenting, and things are never simple in this realm of motherhood. After what seemed like an eternity (if this had been a cartoon and not my crazy life, a bubble would have appeared above my head in which I daydreamed off into another scene of transcendent reflection), I answered something along the lines of “Well, you talk to your kids about what you’re doing and why. You explain the choices you make so that rather than lecturing, they learn from your model. And inIn your every deliberation, as the Iroquois quote goes, you think of the seven generations to come.” I hope it helped that mom a little bit, but more likely, it left her pondering and wanting more. In retrospect, perhaps my initial response would have been more helpful because sometimes life really is just that simple, and sometimes just putting one’s beliefs on the table really is the best way to share.
With Earth month in full swing, and my ongoing work with mothers via ecomom, I think about this question of raising children as stewards of the environment on an almosta daily basis. Indeed, it is a driver behind my every action and like most issues of import; I believe it starts with ones self. As goes the Michael Jackson song, “I’m looking at the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.” To start with oneself, is to realize we are part of nature so perhaps the best way to raise eco-friendly kids is to restore their innate bond with nature. Our children may grow up to rebel against us in one way or another, but instilling a sense of self-efficacy and a sense of interconnection with our natural world can only do good.
A child who feels a sense of place within the web of life will act with conscious consideration for that which is around him – his fellow human beings. The water. The soil. The animals. The air. There would be no us: them.
A child who feels his actions co-create the world around him, will feel inspired to make choices that ripple out in positive ways, creating a happier, healthier society. There would be no self-pity and lethargic entitlement.
In his award winning book, Last Child In the Woods, Richard Louve writes, “As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically and this reduces the richness of human experience. Healing the broken bond between our young and nature – is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it.”
So this question of raising eco-friendly kids goes much deeper; to the very core of what makes us thrive as a species. What makes us happy, I believe. And despite the riches of Western society, we rate ourselves much less happy than many other, poorer, cultures around the world. If we can begin to instill in our children a sense of belonging and responsibility because of our global interconnection in the web of life, we will not only not have to worry about environmentalism and green living per se. We would find ourselves much happier and healthier …living in a world in which words like fair trade, and sustainable have become ubiquitous. Replaced by good old right and wrong.
“How do you know what’s right or wrong?” the child asked the grandpa. “You do the right thing and everything goes smooth. You do the wrong thing, it’s all a mess,” answered the grandpa. Now granted, life is usually messy and rarely smooth but there can be an underlying sense of being on the right track and this too goes back to a sense of purpose and efficacy that can be found in nature. Lying in a field staring up at the clouds, there is no question that there is something much greater going on here than any one part. Planting a flower and watching it grow leaves no question that one can make a positive difference. A parent looking to raise an environmentally conscious child need not do much more than make sure the child gets plenty of time hanging out in nature. “Unstructured play”, as Louve calls it. “Chilling,” is what my son says. The rest - the recycling, composting, carpooling, eating organic, reducing waste, shopping responsibly, avoiding toxins in in cleaning and personal care products – it will all fall into place in due time.
Tips for Spending Time With Kids in Nature
• Walk to school or go to the local park for 15 minutes each morning before school.
• Go on family picnics where you’ve got nothing else planned other than to sit and eat outside and then see what happens.
• Take walks in the local forest, field or park, and count how many live “things you see.” Toddlers are especially good at finding bugs and worms you never would have noticed without their closer-to-the-ground eye.
• Plant a garden – even if you live in the city and it’s just a window-sill pot.
• Tell teens that all “technology time” (a.k.a. screen time spent in front of ipods, pads, games, TV’tvs etc.) must be matched with equivalent time outside with you. Yes, eyes will roll, but time will bring gratitude.
• Lay on the ground together and watch the moon rise.
• Notice the sun rising each morning.
• Join a watershed restoration project.
• Visit a local farm.
• Sleep outside, and look at the stars.
Enjoy these ecomom Approved® products to inspire time outdoors with your family:
• Green Toys Sand Play Set http://www.ecomom.com/eco-friendly-play-and-education/green-toys-recycled-plastic-sand-play-set.html
• Barefoot Books Kids Garden Activity Cards http://www.ecomom.com/barefoot-books-kids-garden-activity-cards.html
• Terracycle Kids Vegetable Growing Kit http://www.ecomom.com/terracycle-kids-vegetable-growing-kit.html
Visit www.ecomom.com for more healthy, eco-friendly choices