Climate change makes many people feel anxious; we see, feel, and read about the effects of global warming every day.
Climate-related worry is often referred to as climate change anxiety, the ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’ that people feel when thinking about global warming and the future of the planet.
Because of the implications of climate change, children and young people are especially vulnerable to climate anxiety.
A 2021 study that surveyed children and young people from 10 different countries around the world, found that 84% of them reported being anxious about climate change. The study reported that children and young people were feeling ‘sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty’ about the global climate crisis, with 75% saying they thought the future was frightening.
As a parent or foster carer, you might be concerned about the effect that climate change is having on your children. You might also be wondering how to start a conversation about climate change with your child.
In this handy guide, we’ve put together some suggestions and advice for talking to children about climate change. These tips and pointers will help you educate your child about climate change in a way that minimises worry, helping to soothe and manage any climate anxiety they may have.
Spotting The Symptoms of Climate Anxiety
If you’re concerned that your child might be experiencing climate anxiety, there are a few signs that you can look out for.Conversations about and depictions of climate change are coming increasingly common in the media. There is a strong chance that your child or young person has seen or heard about the effects of climate change in the media, which might be causing them some distress.
The symptoms of climate anxiety are very similar to the symptoms of standard anxiety in children. Symptoms include:
• Difficulty sleeping (Insomnia, bad dreams)
• Changes in appetite (overeating, or refusing to eat)
• Emotional outbursts
• Feeling generally unwell
• Obsessive thoughts
• Fidgeting or restlessness
• Unusually clingy
If your child is suffering from climate anxiety or climate-related worries, you might also notice them making unusual comments about nature, animals, natural disasters, or the future.
These comments might sound something like:
• “Will polar bears exist when I am older?”
• “Is the world going to end?”
• “What if there are no trees left in the world?”
• “The future is scary.”
• “There is no point getting a job when I am older.”
• “I don’t think I will be able to have children.”
• “Why don’t more people care about animals?”
Don’t Dismiss Your Child’s Anxieties
Your first instinct might be to minimise your child’s anxiety by downplaying the realities of climate change. You might want to reassure your child by telling them that climate change is nothing to worry about.
While this is completely justified, this may actually do more harm than good for your child in the long term. Statements like these imply that your child’s anxieties are unreasonable or unwarranted, which might invalidate their feelings and, in turn, increase their worry.
Part of climate anxiety is the feeling that older generations and governments have responded inadequately to the climate crisis, making children and young people feel ignored or dismissed.
Try asking your child about their anxieties, and how they feel about climate change, being sure to validate their experience. If they don’t want to talk, reassure them that this is also fine; you are available to talk any time they might need it.
Find Balance & Perspective
While you should avoid minimising your child’s anxieties about climate change, it’s also important to ensure they do not become overwhelmed by the distressing realities of global warming.
Talking to your children about climate change involves finding a balance between honesty and reassurance. Being transparent about the effects of climate change often helps to alleviate anxiety, rather than increasing it, helping children to gain some much-needed perspective.
Ensuring your child is adequately informed about climate change provides them with the knowledge and understanding to cope with it.
Resources like this online children’s guide from NASA, or this article from National Geographic Kids, are full of child-friendly information and useful facts about climate change.
You can also educate your children about climate change by reading children’s books on climate change or watching nature documentaries together.
Redirect Their Attention to Positive Action
Climate “Doomsday” Reporting is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern day media. You’ve likely seen various news headlines on climate change, reporting on the way in which climate change is affecting European birds, or that the Amazon rainforest is at its ‘tipping point’.
These headlines, while undoubtedly important, do little good for children and young people who are concerned about climate change. Unrestricted news consumption exposes children to some of the harsher realities of climate change, many of which they are not psychologically ready to digest.
To combat climate anxiety and reduce worry, focus on redirecting your child’s attention to more positive climate news, like the fact that cities across the world are working hard to become carbon neutral.
Positive, action-based climate news will keep your child informed, whilst also helping them to feel less hopeless. Good news about climate change is important for maintaining a sense of hope about the future, showing your child that the responsibility for climate change doesn’t solely rest on their shoulders.
Empower Them to Make a Difference
Many children and young people feel powerless when it comes to climate change.
Involving your child in climate-oriented activities will help to make them feel like they are making a difference. Consider the kinds of sustainable swaps that you and your child can take to reduce your environmental impact, like reducing meat consumption, turning off the lights and recycling.
You can also guide your child toward participating in community wildlife conservation and volunteering activities.
Encouraging your child to take individual action against climate change will empower them, reinstating them with a sense of control and purpose.
For more information and resources that will help you talk to your children about climate change, take a look at:
• Young People’s Trust For the Environment
• Fridays For Future
• Practical Action
Compass Fostering are part of Compass Community; we are dedicated to combating our own issues relating to sustainability and fair practice. We’re working towards becoming a carbon neutral service, guided by our committment to the UN’s SDGs in our fight against the climate crisis.