Most studies on the mental health effects of climate change on children have focused on the trauma of living through a natural disaster. Storms, floods and extreme weather events are often the first time children are exposed to climate change (even if they didn’t realize them at the time) and can affect how they grow up.
“Disasters really affect how children can see the world and form their sense of the future” Betty Lai, Ph.D., a researcher at Boston University, told mbg. Lai has done the job of monitoring how children cope with large-scale disasters like hurricanes. While she says that every child is different, some common reactions may include difficulty sleeping, aggressive behavior, negative beliefs about the future, or dreams or flashbacks about events.
To help him deal with post-traumatic stress symptoms, Lai says giving him a chance to talk about his or her feelings is important. Her research has found that parents and caregivers often assume their children are feeling emotions like theirs and may not want to talk about them. In practice, this is not always the case, and silence can leave children with unanswered questions.
“Usually, kids feel relieved when you ask them how they are holding those feelings and want a chance to talk about it,” she said. This can also reduce the child’s chances of blaming himself for what happened.
“Sometimes, if you don’t sign up, kids can make up what they think happened because they’re trying to solve the puzzle on their own. They need a bit of adult help,” Lai added. “That’s what makes children vulnerable in these disaster situations. They don’t have a lot of experience with the world, and so they’re trying to understand how these pieces fit together. The opportunity to ask questions can be really important. “
Opening up lines of communication can also help validate a child’s emotions. And finally, we don’t have to wait until a disaster strikes to do it.
In Lai’s view, the best way we can prepare children to grow up in a warming world is to provide multiple ways for them to talk about their feelings safely and teach them skills. cope with adverse events while maintaining a positive outlook.
School counselors and social workers are trained to do so, but they tend to be financially deprived. The American Association of School Counselors recommends one school counselor for every 250 children. It sounds like a low rate to start with, but it’s one where only a few states respond consistently. In most countries, the average is close to 1 counselor per 464 student. To make the next generation successful, we will need to establish more spiritual support systems for them, at home and at school.