Teaching Your Children to be Eco-friendly? Use Behavioural Psychology To Create Good Habits That Last a Lifetime

We all want this world to be a better place for our children and for generations to come. This is not an easy goal to achieve instantly but is more of a long play that requires a lot of effort and creativity. As with all kinds of activism everything starts at the grassroots level and just as Gandhi profoundly proclaimed: “be the change you want to see in the world”, we should encourage our children to be environmentally aware and help them form good green habits that will provide a healthier environment for them, and following generations, to live and learn in.

So, how do you go about teaching your little ones to be ‘green’? Encouraging environmentally friendly behaviours in school age children can be simple and effective as long as we follow 3 basic principles:

  • Reinforce positive behaviours in your child through praise and rewards
  • Make environmentally friendly activities into ‘play’
  • Ensure that your child’s actions turn into habits through frequency and repetition

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a mechanism though which we can stimulate our child’s development and steer them in the desired direction. Every positive behaviour our child is displaying (or behaviour we teach them) is rewarded trough either verbal affirmation or physical reward. Parents can create week-long or month-long plans where they can mark off every positive eco-friendly behaviour child exhibits.

For example, when we see that our child turns off the tap whilst brushing their teeth, or switches off the lights when they leave a room, we can mark it off with a star or a sticker.

The BBC website here has a downloadable week long sticker chart and sticker pack that parents can print and cut out with their children. At the end of the week you can also download and print out a ‘Green Star’ certificate on which children can draw pictures of what they did to earn their Green Star.

Make it fun!

‘Learning through play’ is a concept that applies cognitive theory principles as developed by the Swiss psychologist Piaget. A child’s mind is not capable of abstract thinking and logical reasoning until around the age of 11 or 12. Through his research Piaget discovered that younger children learn whilst interacting with the world and forming experiences, thereby making play a crucial part of children’s learning processes and further aiding their development.

There are several ideas you can implement to help your child pro-actively learn the rules of ecology that are both fun and beneficial.

Planting Vegetables

Plant vegetables in your garden with your child that can then be used to make colourful healthy salads and snacks as 1 of your child’s 5 a day. You could make your veggies into food monsters and other fun characters and shapes. Not only will it be a fun activity for your child but it will also encourage them to eat home-grown vegetables that are free of pesticides and which would form healthy eating habits for many years to come.

pic2 pic3

For inspiration have a read about this father who created cartoon themed lunches to teach his children the importance of eating their greens.

Another great activity to encourage your children to positively play with their home grown food would be to create these DIY play plates. Using a porcelain marker you simply draw basic backgrounds (a park, a forest etc.) on to your plates and then bake them to set the design. Cut up lots of fruit and veg shapes and your children can make scenes like the ones below. All of this play will create positive associations with their vegetable patch and encourage them to tend and care for it.


To get you started, Better Homes and Gardens have produced this children’s vegetable garden layout plan and this article on growing a herb ‘pizza garden’ is also worth a read for inspiration.

Play at School

You can promote green activism on a larger scale by getting involved with the Parent Teacher Association at your child’s school and suggesting some smart and fun play ideas for children to participate in. Organise games for ‘Earth Day’ every April 22nd. Junk modelling is a great activity that can be used as a basis for making recycling fun and creating cushions and play costumes out of old jumpers and fabrics can be used to start a conversation about upcycling. This website has 34 craft projects for upcycling with children.

pic5You can organise a fundraising day at the school, where children would bring old glass bottles in for recycling and gather donations for Ecology charities. You could make it an interclass competition with a small prize (perhaps children’s gardening tools and seeds) for the class that bring in the most.

A lot of schools will have their own range of book and shopper bags which they give to children and parents. As part of the PTA you could campaign for these to be made of biodegradable fabric. Why not get your school to order blank bags and ask the children to decorate them using fabric pens? They could be encouraged to draw ‘green’ scenes with a prize for the best three. Read about the guys over at Teach Humane who did this project with their kids.

Turn New Behaviours into Habits

Helping your child to form a new habit is a challenge and time-consuming. As parents we must model positive behaviours ourselves and not be inconsistent in any way. Work your new environmentally friendly activities into your child’s routine. Children thrive when they have a solid routine to work with and this repetition will really help to ground what they have learnt. Reinforce your green ethos at all times. For example, when rewarding your children for a job well done always do this with something sustainable and in line with the lessons you are trying to teach them. Also, always make any rewards systems you use achievable. If you child struggles to ‘win’ then they will become frustrated and likely give up or rebel against the new habits you are trying to instil into them. Consider getting your extended family involved to add in a little bit of accountability. Tell grandma about the new vegetable patch and encourage her to ask your child how things are going with it to try and encourage them to keep it going.

Further Eco Friendly Task Ideas to Do With Your Children

  • Donating old toys to the charity shop.
  • Helping to sort the recycling into the appropriate bins.
  • Completing a sponsored event with the proceeds going to charities such as the Wildlife Trust, PETA or Greenpeace.
  • Planting trees in your garden to help reduce green-house gases.
  • Create a green scrapbook with leaves collected from the park
  • Decorate your own plant pots

Check out these Pinterest boards for LOTS more ideas:

Through small actions each one of us can make a difference and improve the state of the environment to make world a better place for ourselves, our children and future generations.

About the author: Joanna works with who http://www.stuartmorris.co.uk/ who produce bio degradable textile products for fund-raising purposes. When she is not writing she enjoys gardening, crafts and keeping fit.

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