The climate, my family and me - Extinction Rebellion UK

The climate, my family and me

Big people helping little people with big climate thoughts and feelings

How do we explain the climate and ecological crisis to children when we have challenging feelings of our own to manage?

In this series SARA MAE suggests ways to tackle this difficult topic.

Prioritise your own well-being

Climate conversations will be most successful when adults are managing their own feelings well enough to welcome children to the topic.

Before the conversation, identify and access your own support network and use strategies for managing your own personal wellbeing. Connect with people and groups who can help, for example: eco groups like Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion (local and national groups), face-to-face social groups, supportive family members, and social media groups or pages that share an interest in climate care and concern.

Next, set aside time for yourself and try to recognise where your comfort level sits. If you prepare in this way, you will feel better equipped for any questions that arise that might otherwise be distressing.

After the conversation, find another adult to talk to about how the conversation went. Think about the conversation in terms
of ‘what went well?’ and ‘how can it be even better next time?’ Be prepared for further conversations that will arise naturally, and use these to recognise and develop your approach.

Hold the space

If you don’t feel ready to talk to children about these difficult topics, hold their space and attempt the conversation when you feel better. For example, you can ask another adult for their perspective, or you can say to your child: “That is such a good question, I don’t know the answer it right now, but I’m going to find out for you.”

Other ways to hold space for children’s challenging thoughts and feelings could include doing creative activities together (painting, drawing, colouring, reading or writing stories, journaling for older children), collecting items from nature together, and walking outdoors. If children find it hard to talk about their feelings, you can help them to feel different textured natural items and invite them to think about how they feel and what they remind them of.

Embrace all the feelings

What if you become emotional? Don’t worry! We all have emotions and it’s important that we teach our children not to fear our feelings. This is an amazing opportunity to teach our children how we all experience emotions and have different ways of managing them – especially in this time of climate emergency, as more questions will arise as world circumstances change.

For example, when discussing distressing extreme weather events, you could say: “I have tears because I’m a bit upset, which is just one of my feelings. When I feel upset I like to (insert here), which makes me feel better because my feelings can change. What do you like to do when you have strong feelings?”

Prioritise your child’s well-being

Although telling the truth is important, we also need to protect children from unhelpful information. Newspapers, social media, television and adult conversations can be very scary for children. Try to limit their access to information shared in this way, as it can be very overwhelming and unhelpful for little people to hear distressing things that they don’t fully understand.

Children have active imaginations; experts in childcare say that, without sufficient information from adults, children often fill in the gaps with their own frightening conclusions. So we have a responsibility to give children just enough information for them to feel safe, while being mindful that too much detail can tip the balance.

When raising big issues, try to keep conversations short and simple, giving basic evidence and facts, but without too much detail. Children will ask you questions if they want to know more and this is your way to measure exactly what they have the capacity to think about. This will be different for each child and is likely to change as their understanding grows.

Be aware that their resilience might change in either direction, depending on simple things like tiredness and other things happening in their lives. Keep monitoring for signs of this, so that you understand where their comfort level sits.

Reassure children when they are exposed to climate topics. Reassurance plays the most significant role in children’s welfare regarding their climate understanding. Children are looking to all adults to tell them they are safe. Make this the key theme throughout all climate conversations. Give them examples of how they are safe so big concepts become relatable to their daily lives.

Examples of things you can say to your children

“There are lots of adults and children who are all working together to make things better.”

“Can you think of what we are already doing to help?”

“What can you think of us doing that would be even better?”

“What can I help you to do that will help you feel better?”

Talking to children with positive examples of what we can do makes a big, complicated topic tangible. It helps them to measure outcomes. It provides them with empowerment and the feeling that they can create change. These are all essential for emotional climate wellbeing. Some of these might be actions that we (privately) know need some more improvement, but for children it’s important that they feel we are powerful and that we can create positive change where needed.

Think about language. Adults are using words like ‘emergency’, ‘crisis’, ‘extinction’, ‘fire’ and ‘flooding’. What emotions do those words make you feel? Do children understand those words? What might it be like for children to hear those words?

Always ask children, “Who can you talk to about thoughts and feelings when you hear big words like these?” “Can you use your own words to tell me how you feel?”

Explain to children that “We are all very active making things better because we all want the world to be a safe and happy place”. This will lay the groundwork for healthy, resilient children in the face of the climate and ecological crisis.

In Issue 6 of The Hourglass Sara Mae will explore other ways of encouraging climate conversations with children

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