I have been having quite a few conversations with concerned parents about the best way to address their child’s fear of the changes that are taking place in our world. We all want a bright future for our children to enjoy, but the way things are turning out, it’s getting harder for us to imagine this bright future and our children are finding it increasingly difficult too. So how do we prepare ourselves to have these heart rendering conversations with ones so young?
I believe there are four initial factors to consider. First, to acknowledge that we are all – young and old – learning to deal with the realities of our changing world as we go along. None of us have been in this situation before and it can feel as if we are swimming around in the dark. Second, to understand that children know far more than we adults believe they do. Third, never underestimate the fear and confusion they may be feeling about their future. Fourth, we adults need to confront our own fear, confusion and anxiety around what the future may hold. Otherwise, we can unconsciously pass these onto our children.
Here are some pointers which can help you to open up conversations with your child:
- Children want the truth and can spot a lie at two paces. However, it can be very challenging to tell them the facts while at the same time treading the fine line of what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
- If a child is expressing fear or anxiety or asking if they are going to die because of climate change or Covid, really listen to them. This demonstrates that they are being taken seriously and what they say matters.
- Don’t placate them by saying things like, ‘You’re too young to think like that’ or ‘there’s nothing to worry about.’ It will increase their anxiety.
- Talk to children at their level and use language they relate to. For example, a pre-school teacher told me that very young children are describing the pandemic along the lines of a ‘badly bug’ that is preventing them from seeing family or it’s making granny or grandpa ill or stopping them from going to school.
- Choose words carefully. For example, words like crisis and emergency can create panic, whilst words such as ‘problem’ and ‘concern’ can help a child to consider that different outcomes may be possible.
- The implications of world changes are complicated enough for adults to take on board, so it’s important to keep things simple and to keep checking if children understand what being said.
- Consult teachers on the information they are providing to children about world events. One mother told me she was furious when she found out her eight-year-old son was watching the news in class at school without her permission. Her son was experiencing nightmares because of it.
- Talk about positive things that are happening in the world, especially about young activists such as Greta Thunburg and young local activists who are making a positive difference in the community and at their school.
- Ask children how they would like to make a positive change themselves. Perhaps they want to become litter police in their street or to set up a gardening project at their school or raise money for a tree planting initiative. Or maybe they would like help to write a letter to their MP about their concerns for their future.
As I have already mentioned, none of this is easy and we are living in unprecedented times. So it’s important to to share your concerns with other parents and teachers about how they are talking to children, and to consult valuable resources such as Kids Climate Action Network, Climate Psychology Alliance and MumsNet.