Chronic worry about the effects of climate change – known as ‘eco-anxiety’ – is a growing threat among young people. So, what can parents do to help? We find out…

What is eco-anxiety?

eco-anxiety | a young girl sits at a desk. she is making a poster, drawing the Earth and writing 'save the planet' beneath it.

In recent years, more and more people – including kids – have experienced eco-anxiety. Described as extreme and persistent worry about current and future harm to the environment due to climate change, this condition can cause not only emotional distress, but also panic attacks, lack of focus, and feelings of hopelessness.

Child psychologists estimate that more than half of all children and young people express distress, fear and worry about the state of the environment.

In many ways, mild eco-anxiety can be a normal way to feel about the current situation, and these fears often stem from a deep love and care for the natural world. It’s important to recognise this in children, and help them manage their feelings safely.

Symptoms of eco-anxiety

Common symptoms include nervousness, sleep disturbances and feelings of guilt, which can damage mental health over time. But, like other forms of anxiety, eco-anxiety affects everyone differently.

For many, eco-anxiety can spark a need to get involved and create change. But for others, it can become a long-term problem with detrimental effects on other aspects of life.

Look out for signs that your child’s worry is starting to dominate other parts of their life, or that they are withdrawing from things they used to enjoy or care about. This may indicate a larger issue that could require some professional advice.

What can I do to help?

Give perspective

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about climate change. From increased extreme weather, to the melting ice caps, increased droughts, and animal extinctions, the issues can quickly snowball. So it’s important to maintain some perspective.

If your child’s worry is that ‘everything will burn up’ or ‘all the animals will die’, you can explain that these things aren’t true – or aren’t coming true soon. More likely, your local area will experience hotter summers or increased rainfall. These precise facts can help ground kids, preventing fears from becoming overwhelming.

Try to pivot away from scary thoughts and towards what positive actions are already happening. If your child is interested, you can help your local wildlife (encouraging hedgehogs to your garden, for example), adopt an animal from their favourite species, or join a local environmental group to start making a difference.

eco-anxiety | a mother and son are planting a small tree sapling in the ground

Take action

No one is going to solve climate change alone – but small positive actions by individual people do matter. So, combat feelings of guilt or hopelessness by showing kids they can make a difference.

Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • – Try cycling, walking, or taking public transport for short journeys.
  • – Challenge them to take a super speedy shower of two minutes or less, to reduce water use.
  • – Go hunting for charity shop treasures rather than buying new toys.
  • – Take a rubbish bag on your next walk and pick up litter.
  • – Make a game of turning off all the unused switches in the house.
  • – Test out some new veggie or vegan recipes on ‘Meat-free Monday’, and let the kids help you choose what to make each week.

Keep them informed

Fear of the unknown can be a key driver of anxiety. So, educate your child on exactly what climate change is – and how they can help.

Firstly, explain where climate change comes from and describe how it’s affecting our planet (use our ‘What is climate change?’ article!).

Then, highlight the ways different organisations, governments and people are trying to combat it. Make it clear that something can be done about climate change, and that lots of people around the world are working hard to create a greener planet for everyone.

National Geographic Kids magazine frequently discusses climate change and shows kids what positive action they can take to make a difference. Subscribe to the magazine for inspirational content through your door, or check out our free online ‘how to save the planet‘ article for kids!

Showing kids the actions of others demonstrates that their worries are valid and being acted upon – combatting hopelessness and relieving their fears. You could even take them along to a protest, so they can be part of the action!

eco-anxiety | a young boy is smiling at the camera and holding up a green sign that reads 'save the planet! go green'. Behind him, a crowd of people have gathered with their own signs; they are at a protest.

Above all, encouraging conversation and promoting as sustainable a lifestyle as possible will boost the wellbeing of both your child and the planet – and might help you feel better too.

Have your family experienced eco-anxiety? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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