Here’s How To Talk To Your Kids About Climate Anxiety – Grist | Directory Mayhem

Children want to trust that adults have a plan. But when it comes to climate change, next-generation adults leave more questions than answers.

Growing up, I thought my parents knew everything there was to do, including caring for the environment. It was the early 1990s and most environmental campaigns focused on individual behaviors; Our family got involved in small causes—cleaning up parks, recycling, carpooling—hoping to make a difference. But these solutions were obviously not enough to compensate for the government’s failure to act boldly and quickly on the issue.

Now, more than 30 years later, we are at the defining moment to confront global climate change. Who saves the day? Our own children.

Greta Thunberg. Alexandria Villasenor. Autumn Peltier. Xiye Bastida. These are some of the young climate leaders who are strongly committed to environmental action. Instead of pursuing carefree childhood hobbies, they protest, litigate, organize and speak publicly about the importance of policy-based climate solutions. These efforts are bold and inspiring, but the superhero-worthy exploits of teens don’t exonerate the rest of us. Children also need parents who are committed.

As a psychotherapist working with teenagers, I see firsthand that parents need to share the burden of climate responsibility. Some parents are unintentionally dismissive, minimizing or downplaying their children’s environmental concerns: Dont worry so much. You’re too young to think about these things. Do something fun and distract your mind. These reactions are often rooted in the parents’ own triggered and ignored emotions. Other adults remain silent on this subject, either because it is too difficult or uncomfortable to talk about. dr Renee Lertzman, a climate engagement strategist, uses the term rejection To describe this behavior, we know the climate crisis is happening, but we choose to ignore it or turn our backs on it and focus on something else.

Climate denial was already happening before the pandemic, but the added stressors associated with our country’s current situation — unemployment, food insecurity, political conflict, pandemic health issues, social isolation — make it even harder to talk about environmental stewardship to think. Psychology helps explain this gap between climate awareness, concern and engagement. People tend to prioritize immediate concerns over long-term considerations; Survival depends on responding to perceived imminent threats. Climate change, while a clear danger, remains on the back burner in the brain.” Overwhelmed with responsibility and resource-strapped, many American parents leave little room to take action at the end of the day.

But the climate cannot remain on the back burner forever. dr John Fraser, a conservation psychologist and CEO of the New York-based think tank Knology, points out that climate trauma “builds up over time” with “a sense that the earth is failing us.” Meanwhile, young people are asking adults to engage with them on environmental issues. When a parent is avoidant or uncomfortable, it only worries children more.

“Children and young people tell me their anxiety is very high,” wrote Carol Hickman, a climate psychologist at the University of Bath, in a recent article. These feelings are exacerbated when parents “do not understand why and how their concerns about the climate and biodiversity crisis can impact them on a daily and ongoing basis.”

In other words, it depends on how adults react to teenagers. Our job is not to be overly protective, scare, stigmatize, or sugarcoat, but to listen to children’s real and legitimate concerns and then talk about them together. Only then can children and adults work together to find a solution. This intergenerational collaboration is key. When children believe that adults are trusted allies, they are less able to bear the emotional burden of climate change. Jill Kubit, co-founder of Our Kids’ Climate, an international organization amplifying parents’ voices on the issue, says adolescents are “demanding adults to take action and make changes and decisions, and we have the power to do that.”

Children need the actions of their parents to reach the critical mass required for climate protection. This is something Buddhist scholar and environmental activist Joanna Macy has called “the great turning point,” the profound socio-political shift from “business as usual.” Only when ideas and behaviors become contagious, she says, can we tip the scales.

But we still have a long way to go before we reach this turning point; The Yale Program on Climate Change Communications reported in 2020 that although 66 percent of Americans are at least “somewhat concerned” about global warming, about the same percentage said they “rarely” or “never” talk to friends or family about it speak. The climate crisis is already here, but many of us still find it too scary to think about.

But just because you don’t want to talk to your kids about climate change doesn’t make you immune to its effects. As a mother of two living in California, I have long known that climate change is behind many of the changes visible from my own front door—hotter summers, drier winters, and longer periods of drought. Still, I tended to ignore the threat — that is, until wildfires scorched the landscape around us for the past four years. Dealing with orange skies and ash-filled air turned ordinary life upside down and required extra mental effort. It eventually forced me to confront my own climate anxiety and sadness.

There was a certain day when everything seemed to hit me at once. I had just dropped my kids off at school when I caught Greta Thurnberg, then 16, on the radio. She spoke to the adult members of the 2019 UN climate summit, her voice shaking with anger.

“I should be at school by now!”

“How dare you!”

“Shame on you!”

Her words seemed to pierce my chest like an emotional heart attack. When I got home, I stalked from car to house like a zombie. Instead of getting dressed for work, I curled up in a pretzel on the couch and cried.

In my tears, I tasted my own bitter naivety, sadness, shame, anger, and sadness from my childhood. I realized that somewhere in the transition between my idealistic youth and pragmatic parenthood, I had abandoned my commitment to climate protection. As co-leader of my high school environmental club, I had attended a panel interview on local television with longtime environmentalist Jane Goodall. I remember her saying, “The greatest danger to our future is apathy.” But it took the voice of a Swedish teenager to wake me from the adult sleep of climate denial.

Leslie Davenport, psychotherapist and author of Emotional resilience in the age of climate change, advises taking time for difficult emotions and “not just rushing to find the ‘happy’ feelings”. She says ignoring feelings about climate change is like trying to put a ball under water with one hand. Instead, she recommends people strive for a climate-specific type of emotional resilience to strengthen our ability to “stay present and engaged as we bear witness to the growing distress in ourselves, others, and the world.”

For parents, our choice is simple: wake up to climate change or risk dying in your sleep. The former choice requires that we acknowledge our ambivalence about reducing our carbon footprint. We have to ask ourselves difficult questions: Why do we find it so difficult to change our habits, our comfort and our way of life? How can we hold elected officials accountable in the face of the climate challenge ahead? What sacrifices and compromises must we make to avoid the worst effects of climate change?

There are many ways for parents to get involved. We can balance troubling news with inspirational stories, affirmations, and creative acts to strengthen our families for the climate in the long run: Hear the poem Earthrise by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman with your kids; Be inspired by the story of four girls making their school ‘greener’ instead of doomscrolling, look for stories about promising climate policies, laws and proposals; Think about and write down your deepest hopes and fears—something Kubit says of Our Kids’ Climate tends to increase pro-environmental behavior, motivation, and community involvement.

If you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed, try connecting with others. Look for parent-centric climate organizations like Parents for Future, Climate Mama, Science Moms, Climate Action Families. Join a Carbon Conversation or visit a virtual climate café, forums to share and hear what others have to say about the climate crisis. By spending time in these spaces, you might be able to find the right words to talk to children – and other adults! – about our rapidly warming world.

So, hop on the bandwagon, adults! Now that a new government is here and open to prioritizing the environment, parents have an opportunity to join our children and help shift our country’s values ​​toward a more sustainable future.

Future generations, vulnerable ecosystems and “frontier communities” all depend on our ability to act now. As Kubit puts it, “Parents have a unique responsibility because they have someone they are happy to be accountable to. Our own children will hold us accountable.”


Ariella Cook-Shonkoff is a licensed psychotherapist and art therapist based in Berkeley, California. She is co-chair for communications/media at the Climate Psychology Alliance-North America. The views expressed here do not reflect official organizational opinions or positions at Grist.


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