The Climate Crisis might become one of the biggest and most encompassing challenges our children will have to face in their lives. No matter where they live, the effects will have an impact on them.
Many children are already acutely aware of the threats posed by climate change and this expresses itself in the dramatic rise of climate-related mental health issues including eco-anxiety, climate fear, climate depression and more.
A 2021 study by The Lancet on the effects of eco-anxiety and climate fear on children and young adults (aged 16-25) found that 59% were extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried, that’s a sad statistic.
Unfortunately, we are living in times when children have access to a vast amount of information, much of it inappropriate for their age and stage of development. It’s crucial that as parents and educators, we are aware of this and make it our business to step in with care and support.
Addressing our own feelings towards the climate crisis
This can be easier said than done as so many of us are dealing with our own overwhelm and mental health issues relating to the environmental crisis we find ourselves in. In order to be fully present and available for our children it’s equally important that we become aware of our own feelings, thoughts and behaviours and practice self-care and self-compassion. There are many ways in which we can address our own eco-anxiety and if you’re interested come and join my free Climate Hope Challenge, where you will learn skills and tools to move forward with more hope and ease.
Here are some tips and ideas to help you guide your children in these challenging times and become a proactive and authentic support:
- Stick to age-appropriate facts and do your homework first: Rather than adding to the often sensationalist information in the media, do your homework and find sources that will help illustrate elements of climate change in a suitable manner for your child. There are many resources out there including Nasa’s Climate Kids or Climate Visuals for example. You know your child best to find the most appropriate materials.
- Tune into your child’s concerns and listen to them. That doesn’t necessarily mean asking them straight out what they know about climate change (which of course is perfectly fine with many kids), it’s often a good idea to observe and weave the topic naturally into conversation, especially when your child suffers from anxiety. There are beautiful ways in which we can “listen” to our children without diving in straight away. Storytelling, play and nature activities are perfect opportunities to bring up the topic of climate change in a gentle and age-appropriate way. There are many clips and short videos to help you along. Here are just a couple of examples: A Whale’s Tale – Hope Works or The Starfish Story
- Monitor your child’s media exposure. Often our children pick up bits of information from media sources that are not appropriate for their age and development and sometimes we are not even aware of this despite our best efforts. When we really pay attention we might be surprised how omnipresent the bombardment of negative and sensationalist media is: a television screen in the waiting area at the doctor, the radio in a coffee shop, a newspaper display at the supermarket… Of course, we can’t shield our children from all of it, but we can most certainly reduce it.
- Focus on positive, hopeful and empowering solutions. Our children already know about a lot about the worrying facts of the climate crisis but that is not the full story. We don’t hear often enough about the hopeful stories, the inspirational people and positive developments. Involve your children to come up with their own ideas and solutions and support them in putting them into action.
- Become your child’s climate superhero. It must be so difficult and confusing for our children to learn about climate change and the threats to their future, and see the adults around them behave as if it wasn’t happening. Just imagine sitting on a sinking ship and the captain sitting there reading the newspaper. What would we feel like if the person in charge (seemingly) just did not care about our lives, our future? Our children take their cues from us, our behaviours, our reactions, our attitudes. It’s essential for their mental health, that they feel supported and seen by us and that they know we care about their future. Let’s show them through our own actions and behaviours that we have their back.
- Spend meaningful time in Nature. The magnitude of global threats is much too overwhelming for little minds and hearts. Children need direct nature connection as much as they need a healthy diet for both their physical and mental health. Research shows that as humans we need to build up a loving and emotional relationship with the natural world in order to feel the desire to nurture and protect it. In the context of climate change, it’s direct experiences that are meaningful to children. It also gives us as parents the opportunity to reconnect.
- Support and initiate action: Children intrinsically want to learn and become actively involved in issues that affect them. This looks very different for the relevant age groups but all children can do something that will make a difference. Show them that you support them. Empowered action is one of the most effective antidotes to eco-anxiety. When we actively get involved and see that what we do DOES make a difference, our mindset shifts towards more hope and optimism. For older kids Get inspired! Young people participating in climate action is a great resource.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful.
If you would like to learn more about methods that will support your child in their education, health and wellbeing, come and join my 4-week course in Mindful Nature Education or take a look at my book “Roots and Wings – Childhood Needs a Revolution”.