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Climate anxiety in children and how you can help them deal with it

“I once returned home from work to see my tween tucked under the kitchen cabinet - shaking, crying, refusing to come out. Startled all at once, I didn’t know how to react. I kept hoping the babysitter hadn’t done something wrong while I was away. After an hour of cajoling, my son finally spoke up - and I didn’t know how to react. I was utterly perplexed. For the first time in all these years of being a mom, I didn’t know how to ease my child. The television was blaring news of a disastrous flood in the Bay of Bengal - thousands of miles away from us. Kshitij looked up and said - Mumma, they are saying Mumbai would be under water too someday soon. Is it true? Are we all going to die?”

~ Ayesha (Designer by profession, Mom of Kshitij and a dear friend of mine)

Every person on Earth has grown up with their own generation’s crises and dilemmas but today’s kids are dealing with something that’s never been faced by humans before this point - they’re trying to survive against a climate crisis. The world is being gripped by extreme weather, hunger and displacement with a side of 250,000 yearly deaths owing to climate change. At dystopian times like this - it’s almost a natural instinct for children to worry about their shot at a life at least as decent as that of their parents’.

Peering deeper, I realized Kshitij was not a one-off case. Growing climate anxiety in children is like a parallel mental health pandemic threatening to compete with the ongoing one. Up till now, we may have dismissed childrens’ mental health concerns blaming it all on use of social media, lack of exercise, no proper socialization and what not, but naysayers may run out of excuses for this one.

Insecurities and concerns unresolved at a young age have a high chance of resurfacing in adulthood and becoming a chronic mental illness. Besides taking climate action to give our children the quality of life we have enjoyed, here’s how you can ease complicated climate emotions in children -

1) Acknowledge and validate their emotions: Acknowledge your child’s anxiety rather than labelling it as something pathological. A big part of climate anxiety is this sense that it's not fully acknowledged by society and so it’s going to make children feel worse if they think of it as a huge problem that nobody seems to notice. Once you have validated their feelings, help them gain some perspective. Explain that your city will probably see more rain and hotter summers - this will build transparency and make it less scary for them!

2) Talk about the solutions: Discuss the positive steps that people are taking to address climate change. Point kids to good-news stories to show that positive change can happen when people truly care.

3) Show kids it’s not all on them: It’s important to let children know that the fate of the world doesn’t rest individually on their shoulders. Help them communicate how they’re doing their part, to make them feel more in-control.

4) Organize community activities: Kids are likely already taking small actions like cutting down plastic usage, reducing meat consumption, etc. to reduce their environmental footprint.

Organizing group activities to write letters to elected officials or businesses, do a local park cleanup, start a petition, organize a book reading at the local library to spread awareness, or hold a bake sale to raise money for conservation will build a sense of community in them. This way they won't feel like they're sitting on the sidelines waiting for this terrible thing to happen to them.

5) Let them know you’re prepared: If kids are especially fearful of immediate physical danger from climate-induced storms, floods, or wildfires, have drills in place and even practice them when it feels age-appropriate.

Climate anxiety, however, is not just specific to children. Four in ten adults don't want to have children because they fear climate consequences and the resultant quality of life their kids would have. It's important that we as adults address our climate fears as well besides trying to lend a helping hand to children. Change starts with you.

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