Identifying and managing eco-anxiety in children

8 min read

Eco-anxiety is a recent phenomenon that is becoming increasingly concerning. It has only been studied since the 1990s but represents a growing mental challenge in a world increasingly aware of environmental issues. This form of anxiety stems from the mounting concern for environmental problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem degradation.

Eco-anxiety is a psychological distress linked to the planet's future and awareness of human actions contributing to its deterioration.


Several factors contribute to a child developing eco-anxiety:

Anxious media and information: children lack the neurological maturity to distance themselves from catastrophic images they see. Exposure to alarming news, reports, or discussions about environmental issues can create a sense of urgency and insecurity in children.
Lack of positive perspectives: the absence of discussions about progress made to protect the environment or the omission of concrete solutions can accentuate feelings of urgency and powerlessness.
Uncertainty about the future: fear for their own future, that of their families, and the planet as a whole can provoke anxiety in children sensitive to these issues.
Feelings of powerlessness: the impression that their individual actions cannot significantly influence environmental problems can lead to a sense of powerlessness and increased anxiety.
Discrepancies between information and behavior: children are sensitive to the disparity between what they hear, see, or learn and the real actions of those around them. This can create cognitive and emotional conflicts in children (confusion, frustration, anger…).
Personal experience: having experienced extreme weather events, animal loss, or destruction of the environment near their living area can be traumatic and generate anxiety.

These different situations can contribute to eco-anxiety in children, but each child reacts differently to these factors. An approach that combines awareness, positive actions, and providing suitable emotional support can help prevent or alleviate this anxiety.

Identifying eco-anxiety in children.

Climate change has significant implications for the health and future of children and young people. They have little power to limit its damage, which makes them particularly vulnerable to climate anxiety. In a 2021 study by The Lancet involving 10,000 youths aged 16 to 25 from 10 different countries, 59% were extremely or very concerned about the impact of climate change. With the worsening environmental crisis, the subject is pervasive, and even children aged 6-7 can feel troubled by these disruptions.

Signs of possible eco-anxiety include:

- Excessive concern for the environment
- Frequent questions about ecological problems
- Emotional distress signs regarding these problems
- Behavioral changes such as isolation
- Increased anxiety
- Anxiety about the uncertainty of the future
- Sleep disturbances
- Physical reactions such as headaches

How to protect them?

Environmental issues are now prevalent, so avoiding questioning is impossible. By accompanying our children on these subjects, we offer them the best prevention and protection. Here are some good practices:

Open communication: encourage open discussions about the environment without overwhelming them with anxiety-inducing information. Answer children's questions honestly but tailored to their age. Offer positive perspectives. Create an environment where children feel comfortable asking questions and expressing concerns without fear of judgment.

Providing balanced perspectives: highlight positive actions taken to preserve the environment and show progress made. Instill hope and value actions taken to restore and protect life. Show that many adults are working in this direction and that they can count on their parents to guide them in this process. Prepare a list of projects and individuals supporting these actions.

Positive actions: involve children in concrete actions for the environment, such as gardening, recycling, or participating in cleaning activities. Show that positive impact can be made on the environment. By planting a flower, we contribute to sustaining the bees, which are crucial for maintaining biodiversity.

Control access to information: choose reliable sources suitable for the children's age. Limit screen time. Avoid anxiety-inducing conversations when children are present and ensure a reassuring and positive language. Do not convey excessive concern.

Be attentive to signs of distress: monitor signs of anxiety in children following environmental information. If you notice behavioral changes, take time to discuss them.

Helping them manage environmental anxiety.

Validating emotions: listen and validate their concerns without minimizing their feelings. Show your children they can talk to you about their worries. Assure them that their emotions are valid, and they can rely on your support. They will feel secure and learn to manage environmental information in a healthy way.

Encouraging positive action: guide them towards concrete actions to improve the environment, which can strengthen their sense of effectiveness and control.

Stress management practices: teach them relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation to handle stress.

Involving a therapist: if a child's eco-anxiety significantly affects their daily life or shows signs of persistent emotional distress, seeking professional health help is recommended. A therapist can offer specialized support to help the child manage emotions and develop strategies to cope with their anxiety.

By offering suitable emotional support and promoting healthy and resilient environments, we can better help our children face today's challenges while nurturing a positive environmental conscience deeply rooted in respect for our world.

Photo by Juliane Liebermann