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 the second part of this series SARA MAE suggests more ways to tackle this difficult topic.

Taking the leap

Perhaps you’ve been reading this but haven’t started having climate conversations at home yet. That’s okay – and understandable. Just be aware that it’s never too late to start exploring this crucial topic. Simple suggestions for taking the leap include making comments like:

‘Lots of adults, young people and children are agreeing that we need to do something to protect our beautiful planet and all of the people, animals, birds, insects, marine life and trees.’

‘Have you heard people talking about climate change? What are your feelings about that?’

Equip yourself with some starter facts, with enough information to answer questions. Don’t worry about needing to know everything – this is just a conversation. If you get stuck for answers, write down your children’s questions and answer them later.

Timing the conversation

It’s best to only initiate climate conversations when your own circumstances feel calm, and when you can stop what you’re doing and focus on your children. If you address the issue when you feel capable of holding the space, you will have a much better conversation than if you are stressed or have your mind on other things.

It’s also a good idea to ensure that you have time later on answer any questions that arise after your discussions, as children often take time to process their thoughts and feelings and these can surface at unexpected times, for example at bedtime.

However, it’s best to avoid discussing the climate emergency around bedtime. Don’t dismiss them altogether, as the stage for communication should be set by your children, but answer briefly and sufficiently with lots of reassurance for a restful sleep and a promise that the conversation will be continued at a better time. Then make a note on that time will be, aiming for the next day if possible.

Grounding the conversation

It’s a good idea to end all climate conversations with a grounding exercise. Grounding techniques are useful for all of us in managing trauma and maximising our wellbeing, and they can be easily applied to children. Insert a grounding exercise into a climate conversation whenever you think it is required.

Here’s how to do it. Focus on being in the present: help children to think about where they are now, what they will be doing later and what their life looks and feels like at this time. Focus on positive things.

Taking deep, slow breathing is always an excellent grounding technique, as it helps to regulate the part of the brain that responds to extreme feelings and trauma (the amygdala). Deep breathing tells the amygdala to calm down and signals to the other parts of the brain (responsible for rational thoughts) to take over.

Hugs are amazing as they are a visible sign of support, they reduce the stress of the person giving and receiving the hug (due to increasing oxytocin which in turn makes both people happier) and they have been proven to help reduce levels of fear. You can never hug your children too much during this time of climate emergency, and physical touch can help to heal mental anxieties.

Respond, don’t react

Getting involved in climate activism has been proven to help children to manage their eco-anxiety – in some cases removing it altogether. This
starts with a conversation! Keep the information simple and as solutions-focused as possible, to appeal to children’s logic, since emotions have been discussed. For example:

  • If you’re talking about how a million species are at risk of extinction, focus on how we do protect animals, build shelters, etc., what we can do at home and what people around the world are already doing.
  • If you’re talking about the fact that the Arctic is melting and that we are heading for an ice-free Arctic in the summer, focus on ways to reduce global warming such as alternative energy means, tree-planting initiatives, and what we can do to divest from fossil fuels.
  • If you’re talking about the fact that sea levels are rising and coastal flooding is becoming more common, focus on what we can do to build stronger defences, how your local area is managing this, etc.
  • If you’re talking about the fact that 120,000 square km of tropical forest was lost in 2018, focus on what we can do to protect trees: planting more, supporting charities that protect the trees we already have, and being mindful of the resources we use.
  • If you’re talking about the bushfires in Australia, focus on the tens of thousands of people who gathered in Sydney (and the people across the world who stood in solidarity with them) demanding that their government take action, and all the people in the country who helped to save all the animals they could by taking them water, etc.

Feel proud

You should feel proud of yourself. This is a difficult time to live in, but by having these conversations you are giving your children a strong foundation to build on their understanding of the climate and ecological crisis. Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, a teacher, a club leader or an influencer with an investment in our planet and our future generations, your conversations will be the starting point for the little people who will be living in a changing world, and perhaps they will also go on to change it for the better.

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