Climate Change Anxiety in Kids: Expert Advice on Helping Kids Cope

One way to battle the climate change anxiety in kids is to talk, research, and take action together.
One way to battle the climate change anxiety in kids is to talk, research, and take action together.
4/16/24 - By Meghan Rose

Climate change anxiety is real, and can feel so scary and existentially threatening for kids that it poses a real mental health challenge. Fires, floods, unseasonal tornados, extreme heat, snowless winters—it's real, and the constant exposure on social media  can lead to worry and depression that lead to what experts call "climate change anxiety" in kids.

It's hard to deal with as an adult, and it's doubly hard to know what to say to your worried and anxious kids that doesn't either belittle the problem or outright lie! So, we went to an expert: Aja Chavez, Executive Director of Adolescent Services at AMFM Healthcare. She answered our questions on why kids are experiencing anxiety, how it manifests, and what parents can do to help.

Keep reading for great tips to immediately calm anxious kids below. We've also rounded up actions kids of any age can take, how to live more sustainably, and more in our Earth Guide for Kids.


How can we tell if our kids have climate anxiety?

Climate anxiety might show up with your child asking what would be considered excessive questions about the climate and/or the state of the environment. It is normal for kids to have curiosity and questions about the climate/environment. However, the anxiety aspect tends to be noticeable when each question leads to more questions, with no resolve or satisfaction in the responses.

Anxiety might present with questions that ask, “What would happen if.” For example, “What would happen if we didn’t have access to clean water?” It is helpful to step in and inquire what has them asking these questions. Finding out if these questions are being asked from a place of curiosity or a place of worry could be a good indicator that climate anxiety is present.

What can we do to help younger kids navigate their worries?

Most children (and teens) want to be assured that others can take care of them and the world they live in. The first way to help them navigate the worry is to gain an understanding of where the worry comes from. What is the story they are telling themselves about the worry? With climate anxiety, it might be that they are worried they won’t have their basic needs met.

Take time to ask questions about when the worry showed up:

What makes the worry bigger and louder and what makes it quiet and smaller?

Do you notice the worry in your body when it shows up?

Doing all of this before jumping into a solution is important because it validates their concerns and lets them know you are taking it seriously. Even very young children can tell when you are trying to brush them off or avoid a conversation.

Once the understanding seems established, it could be helpful to ask if they have heard anything that people are doing to protect the climate and environment. Doing some research together can provide a sense of relief.

(We've got some great actions kids of any age can take, including tips for living more sustainably, packing zero waste school lunches, starting a Green Club at school, and more in our Earth Guide for Kids.)

Climate Change Anxiety in Kids photo of teens sitting in at a protest
Action and participation can help temper climate anxiety in kids of all ages. 

What can we do to help older kids deal with their stresses in a healthy manner?

Older kids would benefit from everything suggested for the younger children as well—we could all benefit from walking through this process when worry shows up! For older kids, something like writing a facts vs. feelings list is helpful for navigating stress. The feelings are typically what show up and create the sense of helplessness and existential dread. Even if the facts are not fully positive, they are usually accompanied by some type of action that can be taken to reduce the helplessness.

Helping teens understand what worry/stress is, what it looks like for them (avoiding, isolating, distracting, etc.), what it feels like (racing heart, shaky legs, sweaty hands, churning stomach, etc), when it shows up, and why it shows up can help them feel less powerless and take action to navigate it.

Beyond talking with kids, are there physical actions we can take that make kids feel better?

Notice where you are experiencing it in your body. This can be a quick body scan with some internal dialogue such as, "My heart is racing, stomach is churning, and foot is tapping."

This is the classic therapist response, but I promise it actually works, focus on your breath. The most effective thing I have found that works for me is what I call straw breathing. If you have a straw, find it and start breathing through it. You will notice it forces what is called diaphragmatic breathing, which causes your brain and body to relax very quickly.

Engage in dialogue with the anxiety. You can disagree, debate, and disengage with what anxiety is telling you to do (it is usually not something that will be helpful).

Move your body! Shake the anxiety out of your system. Do some jumping jacks, step outside and get a change of scenery, or any other movement that feels good for your body.

Talk it out with someone who won't minimize or sweep it under the rug. If you don't have that, a good journal session can be very effective in getting everything out of your head.

Are there signs that climate worry/anxiety is part of a larger anxiety issue? What are the signs that a child should talk with someone other than a parent?

These are some signs that climate anxiety is part of a larger issue:

  • When it becomes an excessive worry that begins to impact their daily lives.
  • If children are spending all of their time talking about, reading, and researching the issue—and it is taking away from daily activities.
  • A decrease in the ability to care for themselves such as hygiene, sleep, nutrition, and social activities.
  • Engaging in new ways of soothing or coping that are not helpful or effective.

Any last tips for parents?

It is always a good idea to be curious, compassionate, and direct with kids who have climate anxiety or worry in general. I would suggest that for those who have insight into how worry is showing up, ask them if it would be helpful to talk to someone like a counselor.