Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

We can only do our best and then some more when it comes to our climate problem. That said, we should be careful to avoid repeatedly exposing children to events over which they, as individuals, have only limited ability to make a difference. Over-exposing children to endless media reports on drought, fires, and climate change, is a recipe for making the already-existing anxiety problem amongst children even more prominent.

The reality is that children need our help to regulate and measure their emotional response to our climate problem. Of course, being measured can include taking action, such as attending climate rallies, riding bicycles instead of taking the car and helping our children be more conscious of reducing their electricity use at home.

That said, to dwell on climate change all the time is not a good idea for adults or for children. Where a problem is so big and amorphous and seems to seep into every crevice of our lives, dwelling on it constantly can leave us and our children feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and, sometimes, defeated, sad and depressed.

While limiting our children’s exposure to the media coverage about climate change, we can also help our children to take appropriate action to help them feel less helpless and hopeless. Talk with your children about actions that they can take to reduce their carbon footprint or engage in the activities that lobby for change. These actions need to be age-appropriate, practical and achievable. Ideally, they will engender a sense of achievement and the hope for a positive change.

There have been many times in history when we have faced significant global problems, including world wars, the atomic threat of the 1960s and the cold war and the threat of mutual assured destruction. Somehow, humanity worked a way through these problems. People dealt with hardship, fear and loss but came through these events. It is helpful to keep this in mind.

Here are three tips for reducing anxiety in children about the climate change issue.

  1. Once you’ve seen or heard a frightening world event, don’t keep watching it over and over. Turn the TV off or turn the radio to another station. Try to minimise your children’s exposure to the news of these events. Be especially aware that images seen on television (or video footage on online media platforms) have a particularly powerful effect on children, especially very young children. If you do need news updates, then maybe read about it privately online.

  2. Try and hear their feelings before moving on to another topic. You can listen to them by simply acknowledging what you believe they might be experiencing. Through this acknowledgement, you’re giving them congruent emotional feedback, which is an essential element of helping children grow their emotional intelligence. Remember your acknowledgment of how they are feeling is not your agreement about how they are seeing things. Just tune-in to what they are saying and where you can, make statements about what you observe – ‘So, seeing those people made you feel pretty worried that it could happen here’ or ‘If I saw something like that I think I would be upset too’. Ask them one thing you can do with them to help – then do it.

  3. Help them to set goals that they can achieve: ride their bicycles to school three times a week, attend one community tree planting, write one letter to the prime minister and one to the Minister of the Environment about climate change action, attend three climate rallies this year. Once you have a plan, work on the plan to achieve it.

Remember, it’s about doing what you can but not burdening children with things they cannot possibly achieve.

No Scaredy Cats – reducing anxiety and building resilience-thinking skills (2-12) helps the adults in a child’s life to build-up their skill base for helping children manage emerging anxiety, by providing day-to-day tips and strategies.

Click here. for upcoming family practitioner training courses in 2020.

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents. You can find more information, including his books and self-paced online parenting courses at https://www.parentshop.com.au/parent-courses/

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children.

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