Behaviour & Emotions Health & Well-being

How to talk about: Climate change anxiety

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This article is not really about climate change and it’s not really about anxiety either. It’s mostly helpful ideas about how to have a good conversation with your child with a lot of jokes and references to the movie Waterworld.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “I know why penguins and people in the Maldives would be anxious about climate change but why would my children be worried about this stuff?”

These days, most kids know about climate change to some extent which means most parents are having to work out how to guide a generation of young people who believe that life jackets aren’t going to be optional in about ten years and who have really strong opinions about single-use plastic bags.

Your children are profoundly aware of the reality of climate change and they might be feeling a lot of anxiety around the changes it could cause in their lifetime.

There’s a wide spectrum of belief when it comes to climate change. Some people think that climate change is a hoax created by the Illuminati to sell more sunscreen to penguins. Some people believe that climate change is THE ONLY ISSUE that really matters ever since they saw a social media post about straws and turtles. But regardless of what you personally believe, you need to realise that your children are profoundly aware of the reality of climate change and they might be feeling a lot of anxiety around the changes it could cause in their lifetime.

Signs that your child is experiencing anxiety about climate change:

They start referring to their future as being too bright. They watch Waterworld starring Kevin Costner with a pen and paper to “take survival notes” They are hoarding cans of lawnmower petrol under their bed for the impending Carmageddon. They insist that there is no such thing as a 6-year-old wearing too much hemp clothing. They spend as much time washing the recycling as washing themselves. They have already entered your family into a lottery to get passage to an Earth 2.0 exo-planet. They communicate to you that they are harbouring anxious thoughts and feelings that are being exacerbated by the changes happening to the climate.

Seriously though, most young people don’t think that climate change is a thing to agree or disagree with (based on a sample size of one young person I asked before I wrote this) they think that it is a fact and that if we don’t do something about it, bad things are going to happen to the earth. Chances are that your child will have some level of anxiety about the future of our planet because information about climate change is everywhere.

So how do you talk to your young person about the anxiety they might be feeling about climate change?

Here are some options that you could try but probably won’t help:

Buy them a high-quality life jacket from a factory that has a good warranty and is at least 10 meters above sea level. Get them really good swimming lessons. Watch the movie Waterworld starring Kevin Costner every Friday night, but don’t call it a movie night, call it a documentary sent from the future to warn us. Be the mum that solves the climate crisis by organising a screening of Waterworld and inviting world leaders to attend to see what would happen if we don’t change our ways. (Was that two Waterworld references in a row? You bet ya! Only one more to go)

Worth a try and probably will help:

  1. Listen to their fears. Lots of children just need someone to understand why they are scared. They may not even know that they are scared until they are listened to.
  2. Acknowledge their fears and feelings, don’t try to fix them. Just acknowledge them. Let them know that they are not alone.
  3. Remind them that all of our feelings give us information about the world. Anxiety is usually related to our fight, flight or freeze response. That reaction happens when we are confronted by something scary, or the idea of something scary. The feeling itself makes sense, however, it can be crippling. It’s what we do with that feeling that makes the biggest difference. You can use the energy created by that anxiety to spur you into action and do something.
  4. Discuss as a family some practical things that you could do to contribute positively towards caring for the environment. It might be recycling, or biking more places, or eating less meat or even planting trees as a family.
  5. Encourage them to realise that all you really have in life is this present moment and that gratitude is a great way to stay in the present.
  6. Be hopeful and put your hope into action. Like Kevin Costner in Waterworld.
  7. Remind your child and yourself that lots of people doing a little can change a lot, and that to be honest, the only thing that they can really control are their own actions. So even if the problem seems really big, by being a part of the solution, not the problem you and your kids will be less likely to be crippled by climate anxiety.
With thanks to our principal partner Toyota for their support
Christian Gallen

Christian Gallen

Christian is a Senior Presenter and National Trainer for Attitude. He has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long presenting career. Christian manages all the social media and online content for Attitude and is passionate about seeing young people make great choices online and offline.