With the recent wildfires raging in Oregon and all along the West Coast, children and teens alike may fear the worst from the environment. Media coverage of natural disasters around the world can also be overwhelming, especially as evidence for the negative impact humans make on the ecosystem increases. Children may feel like they are losing control of the world around them due to nature and become more anxious as a result. This type of anxiety is called eco-anxiety.
Medical News Today describes eco-anxiety as chronic or severe anxiety related to humans’ relationship with the environment. Children may fear the effects of climate change and worry about losing their loved ones, their homes or material belongings, or food and comfort. These anxieties can manifest in several ways, including trauma and shock, aggression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, reduced feelings of control, or feelings of fatalism and fear.
Your child may be suffering from eco-anxiety if they seem to feel helpless, frustrated, sad, or angry about things outside of their control related to the environment. Children who were forced to evacuate or lost their homes or belongings are at especially high risk for eco-anxiety. If this sounds like your child, there are a few ways you can help them cope.
There are several strategies to help kids feel less anxious about the world around them. One great way to manage eco-anxiety is by getting your kids active with regular exercise. Walking, jogging, or cycling can help decrease most types of anxiety and lower stress levels. It can also help children feel like they are helping the environment by reducing their use of fossil fuels.
You can foster a stronger connection with nature as a family by spending more time outside. By looking at rocks, climbing trees, or collecting leaves or flowers to press at home, you can help alleviate kids’ eco-anxiety through these positive connections. Have your child keep a natural object like a rock or dried flower in their room to touch or look at when they feel anxious. It helps children reconnect with reality, similar to grounding techniques recommended by some mental health professionals to manage anxiety.
You can also educate your children on climate change and its effects. It is important that they receive the facts first rather than a flurry of news articles from various sources. You can teach them about the greenhouse effect and how global warming affects the Earth. Come up with ideas together on how to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, reuse household items, or recycle plastic. This can empower your children and make them feel more in control. There are many great videos and activities on how to explain climate change to your kids online.
In addition, set goals with them to make changes in your household. You can start by challenging them to find 5-10 ways to use less power every day. This could look like turning off unnecessary lights or unplugging chargers when they are not being used. You can even come up with a composting plan or have your child raise their own plants at home. These activities help children feel more empowered and encourage them to develop healthy coping skills.
Children should also be limited to how much information they see and take in from the media. If they repeatedly see news about the wildfires or other natural disasters on several different platforms, it can raise their stress. It is essential to educate your children about the realities of the environment, but it is also important to keep them from being exposed to an overwhelming amount of information that may or may not be trustworthy.
Focus on building your child’s mental resilience as well if they are suffering from eco-anxiety. If children believe in their own strength and abilities, they may handle anxiety much better than those with less confidence. In order to boost resilience, foster caring, trusting relationships with your child and help them look at these environmental problems in a broader context. Make a crisis plan and go through the steps with them so that they feel more prepared if an emergency occurs.
Lastly, you can help your child manage their eco-anxiety by encouraging them to remain optimistic. Even in the face of natural disasters, parents who try to reframe stressful events positively for their children help them manage their anxiety better. It also breaks cycles of negative thinking that is associated with severe or chronic anxiety.
Climate change is scary for all, and it can be a difficult topic to talk about with children who have eco-anxiety. However, like all types of anxiety, you can help your child manage by giving them the facts and tools to cope. Helping them develop goals can also help prepare them to take better care of the Earth in the future.