Once you’ve validated the child’s feelings, help them gain perspective. “You see kids saying things like, ‘The world will be on fire, we’ll all be dead in 20 years’ — and that’s pretty unlikely,” says Clayton. Helping you find accurate information — like explaining that your city is likely to see more rain and hotter summers — is more accurate and less scary.
“Don’t lie to the child, but don’t frighten them with overwhelming fear either,” explains Haase. For example, if a child is concerned about the plight of polar bears, try to avoid apocalyptic messages. (“There’s a good chance you’ll never see a live polar bear.”)
You can also turn serious information into something positive. (“A lot of the polar bears are in danger right now. But a lot of people love polar bears as much as you do, and here are some things they’re doing to help them.”) If the child expresses interest, you can take it a step further and help them get involved in a polar bear conservation group.
Finally, parents can use climate anxiety as an opportunity to teach children emotional regulation techniques that can help them manage anxiety and worry, Haase says. This can include breathing slowly, relaxing muscles, doing mindfulness exercises, or focusing on a task like gardening for a few minutes to help them calm down.
“It’s important to educate children about emotional regulation,” she says. “Help them understand that if they’re really excited, they won’t function as effectively.” And if anxiety begins to interfere with a child’s everyday life, schoolwork, or relationships, parents should talk to a doctor — it might be a sign of greater anxiety.
How to help children feel empowered
No one will solve a massive global problem like climate change. But working to solve the problem can help children feel more confident. “Helping kids find things they can do to make things better is a great way to reduce their anxiety,” says Haase.
This can be anything from planting a garden or composting to collaborating with their school or local government. Here are some ways you can help kids feel empowered about climate change.
Talk about the solutions. It can be helpful for children to talk about the positive things people are doing about climate change. “Normalize that this is a very complicated problem, but millions of people around the world are working to solve it,” says Haase. “Those are things that inspire optimism and hope and a sense of collective spirit.” Parents can also point out good news to children, like the comeback of the Channel Island fox, to show that positive change can happen when people really care .
Show children that not everything is up to them. It is important to let children know that the fate of the world does not rest on their shoulders. “You don’t have to be individually responsible for saving the planet – none of us do that – but we can do things individually to protect our own footprint,” says Clayton. Then help them communicate what they are doing to influence other people.
Organize community activities. Children are probably already taking small, individual measures to reduce their ecological footprint: turning off lights, eating less meat, reducing plastic waste. “Finding a way to make it a community activity that involves multiple families increases the impact,” says Clayton.
For example, you could organize a school group to write letters to elected officials or businesses, conduct a local park cleanup, start a petition, organize a book reading at the local library to raise awareness, or host a bake sale to raise money for conservation to collect . “They’re not going to feel like they’re sitting on the sidelines waiting for this horrible thing to happen to them,” says Clayton.
Let them know you’re prepared. If children are particularly afraid of imminent physical danger from climate-related storms, floods, or wildfires, have plans and even practice them when it feels age appropriate. “Letting a child know that they understand exactly what needs to be done gives them a greater sense of control,” says Haase.
Spend time in nature. Developing a bond with the natural environment is a great way to keep kids motivated and hopeful. “It’s important for kids to love animals and the planet so they can take care of them,” says Haase.
Clayton recommends getting children involved in responsible behavior from an early age, whether it’s picking up trash in the woods or saving energy at home.
“It might not solve climate change, but it makes the child feel like they’re doing something for nature,” she says. “You have to allow them to have some hope, some optimism.”