Dealing with enviro-anxiety

Photo: istockphoto.com/Rob Friedman
The environment is going to be on the curriculum as our children return to school. How do you head off anxiety caused by well meaning but sometimes disturbing lessons about the state of our planet? The new boogeyman Like children in past generations who worried about war and nuclear bombs, children today also have a lot on their minds. Don't assume that your children haven't heard about global warming or that they aren't worried about it. Chances are they have heard about it from their friends, in the media, at school or from listening in on adults discussing extreme weather conditions. Surveys and reports show that not only is global warming on our children's minds, it's frightening them. One report indicated that approximately half of the children surveyed, aged 7 to 11, were anxious about global warming and often lost sleep over it. Another study indicated that children aged 11 to 14 were more concerned about climate change than they were about their homework. Quell the fear Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to reassure their children and minimize their anxiety. The most important thing is to talk to your child. Ask them what they know about global warming and how they feel about it. Pointing out that global warming is a long process and that we have some time to fix the problem can be reassuring to children. Safe and secure Parents of younger children shouldn't provide too much information but emphasize that they are safe. Pointing out the concrete examples of adults working out solutions can be reassuring, like the more environmentally-friendly hybrid cars or the progress we've made healing the ozone layer. Minimiing television can help since dramatic, often frightening, images of tornadoes, flooding and other harsh conditions associated with global warming are regularly in the news and can be terrifying. A gentle introduction to learning about the environment can be found from the Montreal company Little Animation. Their Earth to Rosie series uses games, music, animation, and music to teach children more about the environment. Interactive games like Buses running on French fry oil? talk about successful solutions while songs like from "We're all interconnected" help children grasp the more difficult concepts. The Passion for Fashion games even lets them dress up as their favourite enviro-heroes like Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace winner Wangari Maathai. The animated music video The Little Earth Charter, explains the principles behind the Earth Charter, the blueprint for a sustainable and peaceful society for the 21st century. Children will respond to the positive and reassuring message of being part of a community. Get active Mainstream movies like Arctic Tale can also teach and encourage children to take action against global warming. The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming (Orchard Books, ages 9 -12) by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon not only provides information about global warming, but also how it can be dealt with. Start a project with your child to reduce your carbon footprint. It can be a simple as replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent or LED bulbs, planting a native tree and practicing the 3Rs. Books such as 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth by Joanna Yarrow (Chronicle Books) offer a wealth of information pertaining to simple ways to protect the planet. Carpooling, buying energy efficient appliances and a fuel-efficient vehicle are a few ways you can show children that what we do can make a difference for the health of the planet. Your children will feel better knowing they are part of the solution and watching you participate will encourage them to become active as well and stop unnecessary anxiety. N. Glenn Perrett is a freelance writer with a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo.