Take a look at this lettuce. Growing against all odds in a less than easy environment. If you want to learn how to build climate change resilience in children, then you need to teach your children the skills necessary to adapt and thrive in what looks to be an increasingly hostile world.
We’ve all had a taste of a complete change in our lives with Covid and it’s been difficult for all of us. It’s been even more so for people with small children who have been trapped at home over the last couple of years having to face myriad school hybrid learning styles and other challenges.
How to build climate change resilience in children – Take stock of the challenge.
Many of us are lucky. Climate issues for a lot of us are still in the realm of inconvenience, but even though we have so far remained unscathed, we all have a sense that our lives may not stay untouched for ever. So we must think about what we can do now to help our children adapt in an age of climate change. Is there anything parents can do now today, to help children thrive later? What are the skills they will need?
First it’s important to recognize that these looming threats have taken their toll on all of us. This is the age of anxiety and that anxiety we feel on a daily basis is corrosive to our health. Every time we hear major storm or hurricane warnings. Every time we see the orange sun emerge producing the surreal glow that comes with forest fire smoke. Each time we hear another heat dome is on the way. We can’t escape that anxiety no matter where we live and our children are just as susceptible to it as we adults are. With forest fires, floods and every kind of severe weather event on the upswing, I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say people are worried, for themselves, their families and their kids.
Parents start to wonder, what kind of life can my children expect? Can they look forward to some of the things that I’ve enjoyed, like getting an education or having their first home, without being at the mercy of a forest fire and so on?
How we deal with trauma is the key to building resilience.
Parents can feel change in the air and so can children. However, there is good news. No matter what the future holds and I’ve no better idea than the next person, how we deal with change or adversity, how we model it, has everything to do with how adaptable our children will be as they grow. It is in fact, the key to building resilience. Change by its nature is uncomfortable. It is the feeling of not knowing what comes next and we humans tend to hate that. We thrive with the predicable and let’s face it, change may be difficult, unwelcome and scary, but it’s certainly not boring.
Being resilient means being able to cope with change, to be adaptable as the environment and rules by which we live seem to change on the fly. The first step toward resilience is to realize that stress created by change is a directly linked to how we view that change. We can’t control the change itself, but we can change our reaction to it.
We model how to behave.
During periods of strain and upset, our children look to us. We are their pillar of support whilst they practice the skills of coping with the ups and down of life. They are looking to see how we handle it. Are we able to carry on and let go of things or situations that no longer benefit us and will hold us back? Do we sink for months in to a funk when life throws us a curveball? How adaptable are we?
If you’re a parent and you’re struck by some sort of calamity, try to stay as calm as you can. I’m not saying for a moment that’s easy, but use techniques to help yourself deal with the stress. Meditation is useful, make small decisions when you can no longer make big ones. Surround yourself with support and don’t be afraid of asking for help and so on. In such circumstances it’s normal to feel shock, anger, loss and a myriad amount of other emotions and you will need time. So will your children, but the more you allow those emotions to flow through you without holding on to them, the more you will find equilibrium.
Building resilience is like a muscle and you wouldn’t want to enter a marathon never having put on a pair of trainers. In the same way, a big disaster is not the time that you first want to flex your resilience muscle and it is indeed, like a muscle. Let children experience their own change, their own ups and downs without stepping in to make it all better. Encourage them to adapt and offer support but don’t change the outcome.
That is not something that should start when they are older, it’s something they should start right now, no matter how old they are, with the exception of newborns. If they’re struggling to reach a toy at six months, don’t immediately get it for them. Let them keep trying, even if they get frustrated and only step in if you can see their level of frustration become overwhelming.
Similarly, if you really want to learn how best to build resilience in children in the age of climate change, allow those same children to fail. Failure is not a character flaw, it’s a protectant. If you allow failure and encourage children to keep trying, you sow the seeds of their eventual success. Failure is one of the best tools that life uses to teach us things. Embrace it and welcome it for the learning it provides. It’s the best preparation you can give them for an uncertain future.
There are other simple things you can do too, much of which has been written elsewhere and includes the day to day basics. But beyond that, the most effective way to build climate change resilience in children is to model it in how you deal with issues. Don’t make every little set back a disaster. Try and help children see the positive in a negative situation. Look at every set back as chance to build that resilience muscle and exercise it.
Practice resilience, it’s a muscle.
If a friend is being unkind to your child for no particular reason, explain to the child that their behaviour may be the result of a bad day rather than the child having a problem with them. If the issue is to do with them, help explain what’s happened in a way that explores both sides.
If your child is told off for not doing their homework, take a look with your child at what lesson the teacher may be trying to impart? Explain to your child that despite how uncomfortable it feels, that lesson is useful. Not doing the work required for a course means failing the course. It’s better to get a swift reminder than having to take the time to repeat the course and so on. Feeling sad and coming to terms with your part in such a situation, is all part of the learning process and is also key to exercising that resilience muscle.
Helping building resilience in the age of climate change is ultimately a gift. Presented with the raging river that is life, you are building not a sand bag wall to keep out the water, but a boat in which to cross it safely.