Eco Anxiety in children (and adults) is a “real” thing even though it is not an official diagnosis as of yet. As adults we often underestimate our kids’ perceptiveness and sensitivity. We might not think that they pick up on news stories, headlines are “grown-up” conversations and worries. No matter how much we try to protect our children from the realities of global warming, species extinction, climate change related natural disasters or plastic pollution, our kids know that something BIG is up. Something that won’t just go away if we close our eyes, something that needs attention, compassion, action and most of all conversation.
It can be really hard for us adults to find the right words to address these overwhelming topics ourselves and denial is often the protective mechanism: Once we don’t talk about it, it’s not real! We all know that this can only ever be a temporary solution of self-protection against Eco Anxiety. So if it’s difficult for us to talk about the current crisis, we can only imagine how hard it is for our children to address their worries and formulate questions.
Some important things to keep in mind when talking to children about difficult topics such as the climate crisis:
Being truthful: One of the most worrying things for children is when they know something is up and the adults in their lives pretend everything is ok when it’s quite obviously not.
Considering our children’s age: We don’t want to unnecessarily add to our children’s anxiety and it is important we don’t burden young children with global issues they don’t understand. When they ask questions keeping answers simple, using age appropriate language and depending on their age deciding what information is helpful.
Balancing worrying facts with positive, hopeful and empowering examples of what is already happening: telling them about great inventions, initiatives and organisations making a difference, brainstorming what we can do as a school or family to be proactive etc.
When I did one of my ecotherapy trainings a few years ago I came across The Work That Reconnects, a wonderful organisation that specialises in addressing global challenges such as Eco Anxiety. I was introduced to a powerful approach that I had used in my work as a teacher before, but not in the context of Eco Anxiety: the use of open ended sentences as a tool to initiate a dialogue about a challenging topic. In the interactive sessions this method was an amazing resource to find the right words, but also to direct our own mind towards a difficult subject area in a gentle and supportive way.
I realised that this approach combined with a visual image would be the perfect instrument for teachers, parents and therapists to initiate communication and get children to voice their fears and concerns. At the same time it could support us adults with a tool to direct conversations into a more positive and empowering direction by acknowledging the reality of things, yet also balancing fearful facts with hopeful stories and getting inspiration for finding positive solutions and ways to make a difference.
I initially started to write down sentences and affirmations, trying to cover as many scenarios as possible and then narrowing them down to the most important ones. I worked together with an illustrator to create images supporting the words of each open ended sentence/affirmation. The set of Impulse Cards was then tried and tested by our resident research team (my two daughters 😉 some friends and family and also some teacher friends/colleagues) Their contribution helped immensely to fine tune the final version and we’re so happy with it.
Our Mindful Nature Pedagogy Impulses are available both as posters (A4) and cards in digital format and are suitable for home, educational and therapeutic settings. You can buy your set in our online Mindfulness Shop.
I hope you find them useful and they help to support you in these important conversations.
Read my article “The antidote to Eco Anxiety: Taking in the Good” in A Lust for Life