4 Tips for Teaching Your Child to Live More Sustainably

One day, a couple of years ago, as my son and I headed home from whatever appointment we had, we saw someone toss a can out the window.

“That’s not good for the environment, mom,” he said. “We should go pick that up.”

What could I do? I want to teach my son to live a little more sustainably, and to try to take good care of the environment, so I pulled the car over and we picked up the trash. I was proud of my son, and, I have to admit, I did give myself a pat on the back for teaching him to be aware of the environment — and to take action. (As a parent, you rarely feel like you can say, “Hey! I’m a good mom!” You take it when you can get it.)

As you try to get your child to use public transit and turn off the water while brushing his or her teeth, here are 4 tips you can use as you attempt to instill more sustainable behaviors:

1. Set a Good Example

The number one tip for teaching your child anything is to do it yourself. Let your child see that you turn off the water when you brush your teeth. When possible, do you bike to work? Do you sort your recyclables rather than getting lazy and just tossing it all into the trash? When your child sees you doing the things you are trying to teach, he or she is more likely to follow suit.

2. Make it Fun

My son is a 10 year old boy. For him, there are few things cooler than riding the bus or the train. Especially the train. My son thinks mass transit is awesome, and I try to make it part of what we do. But there are other ways to help your children decide that sustainable living is fun. Make it a game to sort the recyclables. You can even make it a family game to see how much water you can conserve, or whether you can lower the electricity bill each month.

3. Do Things Together

Yes, it’s much easier just to weed the garden yourself. It’s probably faster, too. However, your child will have more fun with your attempts to live a more sustainable lifestyle if you do things together. When I take our glass to the recycling center, I bring my son. It would be faster to do it myself, while he’s at school, but he likes to feel involved.

Plus, actually letting your child participate helps build good habits. Get your child in the habit of gardening, recycling, and engaging in other sustainable habits with you, and he or she will be more likely to want to do them as adults.

4. Explain Your Actions

Give age appropriate explanations for your actions. Many children want to know why they are doing something. If you can provide a reason, many of them are very interested in falling in line. As best you can, explain why it helps the environment when you walk or take the bus instead of drive your car. There are educational resources that can show children how recycling works.

And, of course, you can explain your purchasing behaviors (or lack of consumer behaviors) to your child, emphasizing the importance of doing your best to be sustainable. When your child sees that you take an interest in sustainable living, and knows why it is important, he or she will be likely to join in — and learn those practices as well.

photo by: joelogon

12 thoughts on “4 Tips for Teaching Your Child to Live More Sustainably

  1. Hi Miranda,

    You are absolutely right. It is vital to teach the kids how to live a sustainable life while they are still young. parents and adults really have to set a good example. It may not be easy for children to learn this immediately but it can be done with a little bit of patience.

  2. It is essential to join hands in taking care of the environment. yes, teaching our children about sustainable living is critical. I like your pointers.

  3. My kids go ballistic when they see someone throw trash around. Even when they see windswept trash (which might well have blown off a picnic table by accident), they ask why people have to be so mean. While I must admit that I have never stopped a car to pick up trash, I have often found myself picking up trash when going for a walk.

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