It’s a common complaint that zero waste living with children is difficult. It’s true that children are the avenue for a lot of extra stuff entering the home from school, relatives, friends, and extracurricular activities, and it’s also true that children are powerful actors influencing family negotiations about consumption. I certainly found it easier in a time when I was making decisions for myself and acting on those decisions in ways that suited me best. There really wasn’t anyone else I had to consider when making day to day decisions about food or expenditure of time and money. So I get how frustrating it can be for highly motivated and enthusiastic individuals when children (and partners) aren’t on the same page with environmental passions like living zero waste. I think it helps to remember the end goal which is mindful consumption. I use these six strategies in the hope of raising zero waste heroes (mindful consumers) and for maintaining harmony in our home.

“Pick your battles” was one of the best pieces of parenting advice ever given to me.

I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do. – Jana Stanfield

Be the person you want your children to be

Any parenting expert will tell you that children are educated by what the parent is, not by their talk. If you want to raise mindful and intentional consumers, then be that person. Over time children will follow suit. I am also hoping to build resilience, tolerance, and self-acceptance in my children, by conveying that it’s okay to be different and it’s okay to stand up for what you believe in.

Set manageable goals and boundaries

Talk to your family members about what you hope to achieve and why. Invite your children to set some goals with you so that they take ownership of the decisions made by the family.

Allow children to make their own decisions

Ultimately I want to raise individuals who make environmentally responsible decisions; my kids aren’t going to learn how to do this if I make all the decisions for them. Also, it disempowers children if you are always saying “no” to their requests. In my experience this just results in a ‘locking of horns’ and disregard for the values I want to instil. Instead, I like to help them understand their options so that they can make their own decisions and live with the consequences of these decisions. A conversation might go something like this:

Child, Mum can I have this [cheap plastic thing wrapped in a plastic bag]?

Parent, Yes. If you use your own pocket money it’s your choice, but it’s probably not going to last long. Aren’t you saving up for something else?

This seems to be working for us. There are less arguments, lots of thinking and decisions being made by the kids that make me happy, and lessons learned that helps create mindful consumers. Obviously this approach results in more household waste than I would prefer but I believe the long terms benefits will be worth it.

Two children looking for tagpoles in a large puddle.
There’s are lot to be learned about the world from play.

Protect childhood

By all means discuss sustainable practices with children but don’t expose them too deeply to the world’s problems. Stress and anxiety have become serious issues affecting our children and by managing what they are exposed to, we allow them to flourish and enjoy this precious time of their lives. There is a lot to be learned about the world through play.

Enjoy experiences not stuff

Providing children with enriching experiences instead stuff is a great way to lessen waste and teach children how to lead a happy and fulfilled life. Children also gain improved creativity, social, emotional, and physical skills, and understanding about the world if they have more experiences and less stuff. I think it’s important to note that children that receive many material rewards from their parents will continue to reward themselves with material goods during adulthood.

Maintain a connection to nature

There is scientific evidence that childhood exposure to natural settings raises interest in environmental stewardship and leads to careers and hobbies connected with the environment. It seems obvious to me that the more connected to nature you are, the more you understand it, and the more you will try to protect it. But the benefits of children being in nature don’t stop with developing environmentally responsible citizens. Science is proving that time in nature provides exercise, reduces anxiety, improves focus, makes kids smarter, and helps develop deeper connections with family. You can also incorporate nature into your daily life by gardening, using natural remedies, and using natural materials for play.

This post was republished by 1 Million Women, a movement of women acting on climate change through the way we live.

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2 thoughts

  1. I completely relate to this post, I believe that if you want kids to understand sustainability and live a sustainable life, its got to start early. I talked about how to have a much broader conversation on food, waste and sustainability with kids over on my blog if you’re interested in another opinion! http://bit.ly/1wqRo4t

    Liked by 1 person

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