One thing you can do:Talk to children about climate change
By Jillian Mock
Last month, young people around the world skipped school to join global climate strikes. Children of all ages marched, chanted and carried signs with slogans like, “You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change.”
Dark messages like that highlighted the worry many young people feel about climate change.
In order to lighten that anxiety, experts say, parents should talk to their children.
To address these fears, find a calm moment to ask your child what they’ve seen or heard about climate change and how that makes them feel, said Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist in Washington and a founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance. She said parents should gently correct irrational fears but not downplay anxieties just to make children feel better. That could just make the child feel she can’t trust adults to be honest with them on this topic.
“Talk about the problem, then pivot to the solution,” Dr. Van Susteren said.
Once you’ve discussed your child’s climate fears, talk about people and organizations that are already working on large-scale climate solutions, said Maria Ojala, a psychologist at Orebo University in Sweden who studies young people and climate change.
If possible, talk about solutions in a personal context. Highlight steps you’ve already taken as a family or as individuals to reduce your carbon footprints and brainstorm new ideas together. Taking action can be an empowering antidote to fear, Dr. Van Susteren said. Encourage your child to take action with her peers as well, like joining a group at school or volunteering with a local organization. Collective action has mental health benefits, according to Dr. Ojala. “We are social beings and it’s very good for our well-being to work together with others and be part of a group,” she said.
You probably won’t get rid of your child’s fears altogether, and that’s O.K., Dr. Ojala said. The goal is to help your child cope with her fears in a constructive way to avoid hopelessness.
Finally, think about your own personal choices and lead by example, Dr. Van Susteren said. Your children are probably watching.