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What To Do If Your Child Has Eco-Anxiety

Right now, we can’t move for news about COP26, polluted rivers or air quality. These same reports and images are beamed at our kids too, and while an awareness about our environment is to be applauded in children, can it lead to problems?

Last month scientists at Imperial College London announced the rise of so-called eco-anxiety in children. And according to the British Medical Journal, child psychiatrists have reported an increase in the numbers of young people they see in distress about the state of the climate.

Is it any wonder when our news channels are constantly showing us images of animals on the brink of extinction, melting ice caps and queues of traffic dirtying our air? While these reports are vital for raising awareness, the impact on our kids needs to be considered, too.

© Provided by Grazia

Climate savvy kids

Today’s children are far more climate aware than we were growing up. We are bringing up a generation of kids who are constantly bombarded with environmental messaging, whether that’s being told to walk or cycle, recycle more, eat less meat and protect the planet. While plenty of these suggestions are designed to be helpful, there are an overwhelming number of them. For every initiative to build a cosy bug house in the garden, that’s a potential layer of worry for a child.

So how do we discuss the planet’s wellbeing without causing undue stress to our children? Plenty of parents feel overwhelmed and not sure where to begin when it comes to explaining what we can do as individuals to help, or to limit our kids’ fears.

Linda Conlon MBE is CEO at The Life Science Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne (life.org.uk) and used to breaking complicated science down into understandable chunks for children. Linda says, ‘Surprisingly, climate science is currently not explicitly covered in the school curriculum and, of course, there is a huge difference in understanding between young kids and young teens. It’s not surprising that parents, whose own knowledge of climate science might be limited, feel ill-equipped to approach such a complex and emotive subject with their kids. We know from our own experience at the Life Science Centre that families want to play their part in saving the planet, but many don’t know how.’

Linda says keeping things in perspective is key and using educational resources and external influences can help here: ‘Science centres, like the Life Science Centre, are pretty good at taking complicated science and making it accessible, understandable and relevant to family audiences. Families find out more about the science but also go home with a better understanding of how they might act in a positive way.’

Watch your language

The rhetoric surrounding environmental issues might grab the headlines, but the same words and phrases can be frightening for children. My 7-year-old solemnly told me that we were ‘killing our planet’ because we occasionally get in the car and drive to school. Linda advises that we simplify the words we hear and read, making them sound less alarming for kids:

‘There is a lot of emotive language flying about, like “killing the planet” and “destroying habitats where polar bears live”. This is pretty graphic and upsetting language, and too much for many kids to cope with. It’s far better to strip it out and explain in a more matter of fact, simple way, for example: “Humans are burning lots and lots of fuels for energy, so we can drive cars and fly in planes, and heat and light our homes. All of this means putting something called greenhouse gases in the air. These gases wrap around the planet like a blanket and make everything hotter. A hotter planet means bigger storms, and ice melting where animals like polar bears need to live. It’s a big, big problem and there are lot of people working hard to try and find a solution. There’s also lots that we can do as family to help.”’

Take positive and proactive steps

The burden of climate responsibility is often indirectly put on the shoulders of our children and, while the welfare of the planet will loom large in their lives, it’s important to let our kids know that they can’t solve the climate issues singlehandedly.

Linda says we as parents should reinforce that it’s okay if we can’t tick every box when it comes to energy efficient behaviour. Instead, focus about what we as families can manage: ‘Eating less meat, thinking carefully about transport options, having a more energy efficient home and recycling and reusing items are all on the list but it’s important that kids shouldn’t feel guilty if the family is not in a position, for example, to walk or get a bus to school. It’s all about staying positive and proactive and concentrating on the things they can do.’

So, whether that’s remembering to put empty cereal boxes in the recycling bin, switching off lights when they leave a room, or reminding their parents to take shopping bags when going to the supermarket – kids can begin to see that tiny individual actions all make a difference and help the bigger picture.

You can also help your child’s appreciation of the environment on a very basic level, just by being outside. As Linda says, ‘Kids love to be outside. Get them out there so they can appreciate local habitats and ecosystems. Biodiversity is not just about polar bears, it’s about what’s happening in their own backyards. Foster a respect for nature by keeping it local and relevant to them.’ 

Reference: Grazia

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