Behaviour & Emotions

How to talk about: Climate change anxiety

Climate change anxiety

This article is not really about climate change and it’s not really about anxiety. I'm no expert on either. What it is is some helpful ideas on how to have a good conversation with your child about something that's causing them concern. (Plus it's a chance for me to share some references to the movie Waterworld, which may or may not fall into the 'helpful ideas' category...)

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

Climate change is a hot topic and these days even our youngest kiddos have caught wind of it (sorry, bad weather puns). This means that lots of parents are having to work out how to guide a generation of young people who have really strong opinions about single-use plastic and electric cars.

Most parents are having to work out how to guide a generation of young people who have really strong opinions about single-use plastic and electric cars.

There’s a wide spectrum of belief when it comes to climate change. Some people think the whole issue is a hoax, others think it is THE ONLY ISSUE that really matters ever since they saw a social media post about straws and turtles. But regardless of what we ourselves believe, we need to realise that our children are growing increasingly aware of the reality of climate change and they might be feeling a lot of anxiety around the impact it could have in their lifetime.

Signs that your child is experiencing anxiety about climate change:

  • The first thing they do upon visiting their grandparents is rifle through the rubbish in search of items that could actually be recycled.

  • They insist that their entire wardrobe must be compostable.

  • They watch Waterworld (the 1995 post-apocalyptic action film starring Kevin Costner, in case I need to jog your memory) with a pen and paper to “take survival notes”.

  • They've written to every supermarket in the country asking why cucumbers need to be wrapped in plastic when most other vegetables can happily sit on the shelves 'au natural'. (Actually, I really like that idea - kids should totally send those emails!)

They insist that their entire wardrobe must be compostable.

Seriously though, most young people don’t consider climate change 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 and all who live on it. Chances are your child will have some level of anxiety about the future of our planet because information about environmental issues and climate change is everywhere.

So how do we talk to our young people about the anxiety they might be feeling about climate change?

These ideas are worth a try...

  1. Listen to their fears. While this is an article about talking to our kids, as with any tricky topic, the best place to start is with listening. Lots of children just need to feel heard. They need someone to understand why they are scared and to validate their feelings. Anxious kids may not be able to name their feelings initially, but talking – and being listened to – will really help them make sense of their emotions.

  2. Acknowledge their fears and feelings, without trying to fix them. Even though our parenting radar might take us straight to fixing, reassuring and minimising ("There's nothing to worry about, everything is fine, just stop thinking about it...), simply acknowledging our kids feelings is powerful in itself. Let them know that they are not alone. "It makes sense that you feel anxious, I get it."

  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 care for the environment. It might be increased efforts in recycling, changing some of your buying habits and consumer choices, riding bikes or walking more more places. You could decide to eat less meat each week or plant some trees as a family. Maybe your child could offer to be a recycling consultant for Grandma...

  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. 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 find climate change anxiety less crippling.

  7. Be hopeful and put your hope into action. Just like Kevin Costner in Waterworld.

Christian Gallen

Christian Gallen

Christian has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long career as a youth communicator and presenter. His passion is seeing young people make great choices and thrive, both online and offline.

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