5 top tips for tackling children’s ‘eco-anxiety’

11 March 2020

A growing number of children are being affected by ‘eco-anxiety’

A recent study found 73% of children are worried about the state of the planet right now, with 58% stating they are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on their lives.

Child in school learning about renewable energy

Last year, Bristol City Council became the first local authority in the UK to declare a climate emergency and only last month, the city declared an ecological emergency in response to wildlife decline and the degradation of our natural environment.

While it is promising more and more people are getting engaged with combatting climate change, as a result, a growing number of children are being affected by ‘eco-anxiety’ – concern about ecological disasters, which can cause sleepless nights and intense bouts of worry.

In fact, a recent study found 73% of children are worried about the state of the planet right now, with 58% stating they are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on their lives.

Bristol Energy recently supported a local school event where Qualified Psychotherapist Jo McAndrews, from the Climate Psychology Alliance, led a workshop on how and when is best to navigate climate change with children, and how parents and communities can support children to become resilient.

Jo said:

We can’t protect children from knowing about and facing climate change, but we can protect them from being alone with it. We are being called to step up to a challenge that we never imagined, to accompany our children through unprecedented upheaval of everything we have ever known.

Following the successful event, Jo shares her top tips on how to talk to children about climate change and tackle ‘eco-anxiety’:

Get information and support for yourself

Learn about what is actually happening with the climate and ecological crisis; read the news, research the science. When you are more informed you will be able to answer your children’s questions and when you are supported, you will have the resources to cope with their difficult feelings. There are many discussion groups online and also local groups working with environmental issues where you will find like-minded and supportive others.

Listen to your child

Not many of us are very good at this but we need to learn how to listen and accept a child’s experience without trying to sort it out or tell them it should be something else. Ask them ‘what else is happening?’, ‘how do you feel about that?’, ‘what do you need?’ to allow them to tell you more about what is worrying them. If they have questions that you don’t know how to answer then it is fine to say ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’ You can look it up later and that will give you time to think about what best to say in response.

Look out for signs of anxiety

Children’s feelings usually show themselves in behaviour. If your child is unusually agitated or distressed, if they are more quiet and withdrawn, or if they are getting into trouble at school - it is a sign that something is up. All children need to feel they are safe and loved. Make any opportunity for more connection, kindness, togetherness and understanding. Do not criticise or punish disruptive behaviour, it will stop you being on their side and really understanding what they are going through.

Be curious

If you are genuinely interested in what your child is thinking and feeling then they will open up to you. Treat their feelings with respect and acceptance and they will not feel alone. This sounds obvious but it is rare in our culture to accept and be interested in how children feel, and most children are used to having to worry by themselves. Experiment with new ways of listening and engaging with your child’s thoughts and feelings.

Connect with nature

Children (and adults!) need time in nature to stay healthy. Children who love nature and are connected to the outdoors will build the sorts of resilience and skills needed for the future. We want to protect what we love. Imaginative play builds resourcefulness and creativity.

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