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Climate anxiety and young children. We need to take climate justice action into our own hands.

This is a letter to all parents and educators of young children, from my heart to yours.

Climate justice.

Anxiety. Hopelessness.

Children.

You might have been following the COP26 in Glasgow… and I don’t know about you but I am deeply disappointed.

For the families living on island countries who will bear the cost of a lack of commitment to phasing out coal and for all of us who hoped for better leadership and better stewardship of Country and land.

For our children.

For their future.

Because, our leaders’ lack of commitment to climate change makes solutions children’s responsibility. WE are making climate justice our children’s problem. And they are feeling it! * As a mother of teenagers let me tell you this isn’t a small concern! Not every child is going to be a Greta and demand justice. Many will internalise shame, depression, anxiety and hopelessness.

Now I know I know no one here is actively teaching children that they will inherit these problems! Early years services do a great job meeting and exceeding their sustainability obligations with passion and innovation, and all parents I know or have known are leading this learning at home. This letter is for you, written with hope and deep appreciation for all you do.

This is a political issue, not an education issue, however it is up to us to help remedy it, right now and take the stress off these developing future leaders.

When we educate on climate change or sustainability in the early years, we put power to act in children’s hands. However, I have a huge problem with the way this is usually presented to children and how media and materials support this education. Telling young children about landfills, carbon emissions or even just that the global temperature is warming and other ‘messes we made’ and making solutions their responsibility is a direct path to an anxiety-what child does not internalise adult’s problems and make them about them??

Instead, grow love for the planet in children’s hearts.

Get them outside, connect them to trees and earth. Empower them with positivity and stories of adults who do good for the planet. We need to build inner pictures for children of success and hope. Because there is hope. No more skinny polar bears or oceans of plastic-please send those to the federal government.

What can we do, today in our homes or early years services?

If you can, get children outside as much as you can and encourage them to love their environment! Talk about what you love in your service’s garden and encourage slow, imaginative play on the tiny world level. Leave the plastic toys for another day and let children explore and immerse their senses in (safe) sunlight, sand, leaves and flowers and dirt.

  • Find books on or recount positive true stories to children about successful adult climate helpers!
  • Avoid accidentally shaming or directing children to take sustainability actions like recycling or turning off water and lights. Direct children’s attention to sustainability with the awareness that YOU are the adult with the responsibility to the planet.
  • Explore your own anxiety, concern or bias in this area and get help as needed. Chat to colleagues or helpful professionals. What lives in us passes along to children in our care non verbally. This applies to other areas of justice and equality-racism, gender issues and other isms…we all have something to work on!
  • Be aware that children learn most from our actions. Are we encouraging sustainability actions for children that we ourselves do not do? Young children are sponges for all of our actions, and just wait until they are teenagers if you hope to hide discrepancy between word and action!!   

What’s next?

Chat to colleagues and do a review on your NQS area 3 programming and procedures (For those of you outside NSW or Australia, this is where services have an obligation to sustainability in practice). We strongly recommend:

  • Working with local indigenous elders and community to help children respect and connect to country
  • Grow and eat your own food
  • Look after your soil (watch for my upcoming blog on soil health in EC services)
  • Set up functional composting-get an expert in to teach your team about composting as needed.
  • Make future purchases mindfully and ethically. Plastic, with coal, needs to be phased out.
  • Make caring for your play materials part of the program. Children can sand and seal untreated wooden toys and furniture with beeswax, help you sew tears on dress ups and care for books etc, but remember to keep it light and know that sustainability is the adult’s role!

This is a climate justice issue as well as a way to work with children’s developmental stages and needs. In a covid world, we must lift the stress off children in every area we can. We must model action and hope and be aware of the lessons we teach without meaning to. Thank you so much for reading this and joining me in climate justice actions.

If you have any more ideas to help children miss out on climate anxiety or thoughts on this letter, please leave them below, email me or catch me on the socials. I would love to hear from everyone reading this <3

*https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-harming-childrens-mental-health-and-this-is-just-the-start-168070

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/10/overwhelming-and-terrifying-impact-of-climate-crisis-on-mental-health

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/10/overwhelming-and-terrifying-impact-of-climate-crisis-on-mental-health

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02582-8

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