From ‘Party Bags’ to Psychology
Climate change concerns are now being brought into the daily lives of young children. With demonstrations actively seeking the involvement of school-age learners, their teachers and home educators, the message can seem to be that ‘climate angst’ is more important than anything else. Whether this matches or clashes with your own personal opinions, the over-riding concern for many is whether children in their care are happily motivated to follow a positive cause – or driven by fear.
Discussion at a weekend conference run by Potential Plus UK mentioned that High Learning Potential (HLP) children can be particularly susceptible to ‘existential angst’ as well as having a heightened sense of ‘right and wrong’ in the world (see advice sheet PA412 Supporting High Learning Potential in RE, Philosophy and Citizenship). This could make them committed to rule-bending, high-profile campaigning – or conversely, very opposed to it. Positive facts and engaging action can help reduce HLP anxiety and also have a powerful ripple effect. Here are 5 ideas that may not in isolation save the planet, but might just save your child’s state of mind.
Focus first on the positive! What environmental initiatives has your learner noticed in their own lifetime? Can you put into context from your own experience how some ‘new’ measures are now ‘normal’? Perhaps an increase in recycling centres, eco light bulbs indoors and in streetlights, electric car charging points, recycled paper, organic food options, renewable energy schemes or road verges being left to grow to wild. What else can they think of…?
Find success stories! In 2000 the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) took over Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, aiming to “demonstrate, research and encourage wildlife-friendly farming […] that produces food and makes a profit”. They now report “a staggering 226% increase in our breeding farmland birds, and, on average, 15 times more wintering farmland birds”. (https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/hope-farm/).
There are similarly hopeful global reports from Friends of the Earth (https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate-change/reasons-hope-fight-against-global-warming) and WWF, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, (https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/9-reasons-for-hope-in-the-face-of-climate-change).
These national and international examples will surely be inspirational and help to reduce anxiety.
Rather than feeling pessimistic, consider together figures in history who have shaken things up and caused huge shifts for the good. You might choose activists for animal rights, racial equality, prison reform, ethical trading, factory safety or other social change.
In recent times, individuals such as Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Prince Harry have been in the news for voicing their environmental views. As appropriate to the age of the child in your care, explore the range of reactions to each of these figures – but essentially simply let their presence nurture an optimism for the future.
3. Passion and Parties
Help your HLP learner to pinpoint areas that both inspire them and also contribute to positive change. For example, do they like to be outside getting active? The national network of Wildlife Trusts is always on the lookout for youngsters to get involved (www.wildlifetrusts.org). Are they fascinated by renewable energy? Many local councils now offer tours of their ‘Energy from Waste’ facilities and solar or windfarms are often keen to open their doors, educate and possibly welcome volunteers.
Instead of expensive, polluting party bags, a current HLP child member of Potential Plus UK asked Birthday guests to choose hedgehogs, owls or a riverbank area. The party bag budget was then spent on sponsoring these for a year with their local Wildlife Trust!
Other great ideas for eco-friendly parties can be found at Ecokidsplanet (www.ecokidsplanet.co.uk/blogs/news/how-to-throw-a-kick-ass-eco-friendly-children-s-party).
Swap to the search engine Ecosia (www.ecosia.org). A powerful yet simple step, Ecosia has now planted an incredible 70 million trees using the profits from internet searches. Their servers run on 100% renewable energy and they are ‘beyond’ carbon neutral as every search request effectively removes 1kg of CO2 from the atmosphere.
According to Greenpeace, if the internet were a country it would rank 3rd in the world for electricity consumption! “Who is winning the race to build a green internet?” (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/click-clean/) helps you and your tech-savvy youngster to make eco-choices between App providers and more.
Also seek out companies such as the UK-based NetWeaver (www.netweaver.co.uk) that address ‘green’ issues with email and web-hosting services.
And never overlook the power of (pocket) money! Consider opening an ecological children’s bank account or investing any Child Trust Fund or Junior ISA into a uniquely ethical fund.
It is important to take financial advice and research any organisation before you invest, however, suitable providers might include Triodos Bank (www.triodos.co.uk), The Ecology Building Society (www.ecology.co.uk) or Abundance (https://www.abundanceinvestment.com/).
Keep a watchful eye and if it seems that your child is showing signs of anxiety, depression or ‘doomsday thinking’, it is crucial to find appropriate support. Your GP, a Pastoral or Form-teacher, the School Nursing Team or Home Education network are some of the places you could turn to for help.
It is obviously undesirable to be pessimistic about the future or build a world view around fear. HLP youngsters in particular can be prone to ‘existential angst’ and might need skilled support. Potential Plus UK suggests that facing fears is the key to children dealing with their emotional problems and says: “Our children’s lives are often filled with distressing emotions. We cannot wrap them in cotton wool forever but must teach them to confront their problems and not feel overwhelmed. […] Try and encourage your child to be open to new ways of seeing a situation rather than feeling the future is fixed. Help your child to develop strengths to enable them to shape their own future.” (See advice sheet PA608 Helping High Learning Potential Children Deal with Emotional Problems )
For more information, Depression Alliance have published ‘Existential Depression; The Mental Illness of the Gifted & Talented’ at www.depressionalliance.org/existential-depression/ and SENG, (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted), focus on ‘Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals at http://sengifted.org/existential-depression-in-gifted-individual/. Also search for information and local Existential Therapists on the Counselling Directory website at www.counselling-directory.org.uk/existential-therapy.html.
Remember, it is always important to take expert advice, communicate and choose the therapeutic approach most appropriate to your child to help them to offset climate angst and actively enjoy preserving this beautiful planet.