Today’s youth are growing up in a time where government leaders, the media, scientists, teachers, and their families are talking about the ever-present and future effects of climate change. Some graphic images of hurricanes, wildfires, dying marine life, and more can cause anxiety for people of all ages — especially teens and kids.
Research published in Clinical Psychological Science Journal shows that children six to 12 years old are vulnerable to acute environmental stressors that can impact their mental well-being.
The last thing parents want to do is cause more worry or fear in kids. While science validates some of these concerns, parents can address conservation and environmental issues with children calmly and constructively. If you’re looking for some ideas, consider using these tips to talk to your kids about the climate and help keep their eco-anxiety at bay.
Actively Listen, and Above All, Don’t Panic
Kids look to their parents for comfort in most unsettling situations. They also notice your response. The most important thing is to listen to their questions and concerns actively and don’t panic in your reply.
Dr. Ziv Cohen, M.D., is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University in New York. In a Parents magazine interview, Cohen stressed that parents should avoid excessively alarming little ones. “It doesn’t serve any purpose,” he explained. “It’s just going to lead to anxiety in the child that they’re not going to be able to cope with.”
You can undoubtedly validate a concern about how climate change affects the planet. But framing your reply in a calm, positive light is essential. If you have severe anxieties about climate issues, don’t pass them on to your kids.
Dr. Cohen said, “The message can be, 'Yes, we do have to take care of the Earth. The Earth is fragile and there are things we can do to make sure it stays healthy."
Also, offer reassurance that scientists, researchers, and environmental organizations work hard every day to find ways to help the planet.
Team Up to Help Protect the Planet
Another way to alleviate a child’s eco-anxiety is to use teamwork and take positive action to help make a difference for the planet. Be sure to explain that every small effort you, your child, and your family put forth to aid the Earth at home, school, and in your neighborhood helps.
Then form an eco-friendly plan or project to tackle together, where you can see positive results. Ask your child to give you some ideas, and here are some suggestions:
- Sort and recycle items at home.
- Go to the beach or park and pick up litter.
- Write a letter to a local official and ask for help protecting the planet.
- Do an eco-friendly craft – demonstrate upcycling, for example, by turning an empty milk jug into a birdfeeder.
- Take reusable cloth bags to the store for shopping.
- Make a colorful sign to remind all family members to turn off lights when they leave a room and turn off the bathroom faucet while brushing their teeth.
It’s also nice to reward children for a job well done. Consider giving them a small treat or create a chart and put happy face stickers or stars next to every Earth-friendly task they accomplish each day or week.
Spend Time Outdoors in Nature
Spending time outdoors together is a wonderful way to foster an appreciation for nature and calm your child’s fears about the Earth's longevity. Just seeing green grass, a blue sky, feeling the breeze, and soaking up sunshine are all simple things to boost your and your children’s spirits and bask in nature.
Going on a hike or a nature-themed scavenger hunt are also fun activities. For the latter, make a list of things for your child to find and then collect them. Items might include a leaf, an acorn, a purple wildflower, a twig, and more.
If you hike, bike through a park, or enjoy a day at the beach, you can play I Spy and point out things like a seagull, a ladybug, an earthworm, a tree trunk — the possibilities are endless. Lay in sleeping bags or on an air mattress or hammock in your backyard and look up at the stars. When kids engage with nature, they can see the beauty around them– this natural reassurance can help alleviate anxiety.
Overall, fostering a love of nature at an early age can instill environmental stewardship later in life.
Volunteer at a Sustainable Nonprofit or in the Community
Eco-friendly charities and organizations always need volunteers to help meet their Earth-friendly goals. Find a local green nonprofit and volunteer with your kids. Some ideas include:
- Working at a community garden.
- Helping to beautify old playground equipment at a park or school.
- Plant trees.
- Spend time playing with rescued puppies or kitties at a local animal shelter.
Working in the community nurtures a desire to reach beyond your family and home to help others and the planet on a larger scale. The intrinsic rewards of making a positive difference – and using teamwork — are priceless.
Always Keep Communication Lines Open
Always keep communication lines open and encourage your child to talk to you anytime about anything that bothers them, including climate change issues. Love, hugs, and promises that you’re always there are reassuring and soothing.
Overall, doing these things can help your child focus positively on the planet, feel like they are part of the solution, and ease their eco-anxiety.
The Janesville Transit System is the primary provider of mass transportation in Janesville, Wisconsin. Using twenty vehicles, six regular routes are provided from Monday through Saturday. Late evening service is also available using the Nightline route deviation service. For more information visit: www.janesvillewi.gov/departments-services/neighborhood-and-community-services/bus-transit-jts