Helping Children Manage Anxiety

The facts about climate change can be worrying but we can help children to understand climate change by giving them the correct information, without causing panic and fear. Most children already read about (and handle well) “dangerous” situations in adventure storybooks or books that deal with a real problem or dilemma. Children can also be very creative with solutions.

The wording and images in my story (Planet Earth Needs Our Help) have been chosen carefully to present ideas about the possible impacts of climate change in a non-threatening way. They provide a way of engaging children in conversations and problem-solving, whilst still having fun.

A cognitive, behavioural approach (CBT) can be very useful to help us to discuss difficult ideas. CBT is based on research and evidence of what really works for managing anxiety and worries.

It is a set of natural ways people have always used to respond to threats, fears and anxieties. We just need to notice and understand how our natural thoughts and behaviours work in practice, and how to use it helpfully. It is important to stress to children that anxiety and low mood is normal and may only be a problem when it becomes unmanageable, impacting seriously on health and well-being. This is why we need to encourage children to talk to the adults they trust, and not be afraid to seek help when feeling anxious or afraid.  

We can use CBT creatively, in story-telling. “Planet Earth Needs Our Help” is an ideal story to use to help children (and adults) to use a CBT approach. We can encourage children to notice what they are thinking, feeling and doing, as they read the book, and during activities and discussions on important ideas it raises about caring for ourselves and our planet. We should;

  • ensure children are able to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe, non-judgemental, compassionate environment;
  • notice if thoughts and anxieties are of the past, present or future, and consider realistic responses and decisions to these thoughts and actions;
  • identify how helpful or unhelpful specific thoughts, feelings and actions are – to the individual, to others and to our planet as a whole.

It is common knowledge that practice and repetition helps us to understand, apply and implement new learning, skills and behaviour. Communication, CBT and mindfulness are life skills that we use naturally, but which we can use consciously to cope with many anxious situations that children (and adults) face today. It may not always work, but that’s ok too “if at first you don’t succeed, try again!”  It helps to accept that we are human and will often naturally feel, anxious, low and fearful. How we feel will also definitely be affected by how we see things and the actions we take.