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How to Teach Children Coping Strategies for Climate Change Concerns

Climate change is scary, full of unknowns, and paved with uncertainty.

Building emotional resilience around climate change requires an understanding of how we respond to change and our capacity to tolerate uncertainty. 

It's not unusual to experience change as a threat - but when we do, our automatic biological ‘fear’ response is triggered, releasing the chemical noradrenaline, whose role is to close down our peripheral vision and 'zoom' in on the problem. 

Hyper-focusing on the 'threat' is biology’s way of keeping us safe. It's very effective when facing an immediate issue but less helpful for ongoing ones, such as climate change. Especially surrounded by news that is repeatedly pressing the noradrenaline button.

Under these circumstances, this biological response becomes problematic as it keeps us looping around the issue, even making it feel risky to look away.

One way to ease this cycle and bring our peripheral vision back online is to adapt a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tool (CBT) that involves 'gathering counter evidence'. To accomplish this, we must consciously look away from the problem and actively seek information that counterbalances it and brings a more balanced perspective into view. 

When considering children and climate change, nowhere is the need to bring a more balanced perspective into view more pronounced and unaddressed. Their preoccupation highlighted by the selection of 'Climate Change' as the Oxford Children's Word of the Year for 2023. Children's concerns regarding climate change are extensively documented worldwide, with research indicating how their concerns can lead to worry, anger, and a sense of hopelessness about the future.

Teaching children to 'gather counter-evidence' as a tool to ease their climate emotions could prove helpful. Putting this theory to test, I conducted research with 7-14 year olds, showing them stories of the projects and people working to repair the planet and checking with them before and after to monitor any impacts on their emotions. The results are as follows:

100% of them were aware and concerned about climate change. But unsure of how they can help

50% knew that people are actively working on climate solutions

0% could name any projects

I was pleased to discover:

100% reported feeling less anxious after hearing stories about the people and projects working to repair the planet

100% wanted to hear more about these types of projects.

Seeing that sharing positive stories can help on an individual level, I have created the online platform Reasons to be Hopeful. Through this platform, I am (a) spotlighting the people and projects dedicated to repairing the planet and (b) cultivating climate stories that empower young minds with the knowledge of whats possible now and in the future.

Through sharing these stories I am helping young people discover the successful, innovative climate solutions and adaptations currently in action. Whilst also learning more about exciting new technologies, sustainable ways of living, possible careers, and routes open to get involved, if and when they choose to. 

There is also space to hear from the people who are utilising the intersectional reality of climate change as an opportunity to move towards more equitable and healthy futures. These provide a chance for our young people to think about where they fit into this journey we are on, rather than being passive recipients of adverse change. 

These projects may not be the ultimate solutions but are positive steps. Celebrating these wins does not mean pretending that bad things are not happening or underestimating the scale of the current crisis. However, sharing examples of a sustainable future can help fuel young people's imaginations to envisage alternative and more positive futures for themselves and the planet.

On my journey of creating Reasons to be Hopeful, I have been amazed at how many people and projects are working on positive climate action. These range from the inspirational Coral Restoration Foundation to innovative organisations such as Save Plastics, who have invented a process to recycle waste plastic into bricks that can be used to build houses, fences, jetties and much more.

I am on a mission to make information about these projects more accessible to young people. Each week, I will upload a new story and start counting how many projects there are giving us reasons to be hopeful. I will also share mental health tips and organisations working to help children stay calm during climate change.

I have just started to collect these exciting positive climate stories and let young people know they are here.

If you would like to join me in improving the conversation around climate change for the next generation, there are two easy ways you can help.

1. Follow Reasons to be Hopeful, sharing it with friends and family to help more people know about our work.

2. Share links, pictures or short videos of your favourite climate projects you want our young people to know about so I can showcase them on Reasons to be Hopeful. 

‘Gathering Counter Evidence’ Exercise

If it feels appropriate, when searching for and sharing positive climate action projects, consider using it as an opportunity to engage in a conversation with a young person you know. Discover their climate concerns together and explore organisations that are actively working to address them.


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