How can you raise your children with hope in times of climate crisis?

With her newborn baby on her arm, Mascha Bongenaar (41) from Uden looked on Nos news. “There was a post about a natural disaster, and suddenly I realized how big the climate problem is.” It was time to live more sustainably, she thought, and to teach her sons (now 10, 8 and 5) to do the same. “I started reducing our plastic waste five years ago: a soap instead of bottles of liquid soap and I went to the market and greengrocer with recyclable bags. Along the way, I explained the oldest boys why we did it. ” It was satisfactory: The plastic waste container remained empty for longer and longer. But when she is in the book The hidden effect (2017) by Babette Porcelijn read that reduction of plastic waste makes no difference, she was “disturbed for a while”.

Parenting in a climate crisis, how to do it? In a recent publication, the Dutch Youth Institute (NJI) wrote that three -quarters of children and adolescents are concerned about climate change and that parents face a difficult task: they want to discuss the topic but not so intensively that their children are scared or depressed about it, their future. According to NJI, children can be emotionally affected by images they see (floods, polar bears on a last piece of ice), which may result in psychological complaints, such as anxiety and depression. A quarter of young people are so concerned that it interferes with their daily lives or sleep.

How do you help your child deal with his thoughts on this crisis? “Parents should not neglect the problem in the hope of protecting a child,” said Susan Bögels, professor of Family Mental Health at the University of Amsterdam. Education and growing up in uncertain times is one of the themes she publishes about. “Children know about the problems – they hear daily about nitrogen, animal welfare, flooding and natural fires caused by global warming. It’s about communicating realistic and with hope. ”

It’s nice to contribute something

Make the topic clear for both young children and teens by showing them what they can: eat vegetarian, don’t buy new jeans, buy used electronics, stop grilling. “Examination trips don’t have to go to Albufeira or Ibiza, young people can have a lot of fun in orange or at Vlieland.” It is also hopeful: to show your child what successful projects already exist. “Tell stories about what has changed for the better in recent years. In Africa, trees are replanted, more and more houses have solar panels, in Amsterdam people can swim in the canals again.” This is how you can reassure anxious children. “Recognize that the problem is great and the threat is real. But try to turn the conversation towards what can make your child get better. Suggest doing something kids like to contribute. ” An afternoon of collecting waste with friends, collecting pledge bottles in the neighborhood and donating the profits, preparing a talk about the climate.

Hopefully talking about the theme is therefore good, but ‘living life’ is even more important, says Bögels. Not to tell children what to do, but to do it yourself. “Parents must radically change their own lives: stop flying, fail to acquire a dog or other carnivorous pet, stop shopping, drive electricity or get rid of the car. Isol the house, remove the tiles in your garden, collect rainwater and use it for the plants. Children see it and they will imitate it later.”

Also read this personal post: How I learned to deal with gloom about the climate

It is also the theory of Tineke Janzen (30) from the Leeuvarden. She has worked on a sustainable lifestyle for a year and a half. She tries to teach her children (6 and 4) respect for nature – ‘Don’t step on the mushrooms’, she says during a walk in the forest – in the hope that it will later motivate them to make conscious choices. When you ask her kids about the bar of soap in the shower, they say, “We don’t use shampoo because it ends up in the ocean and it’s sad for the turtles.” Janzen buys toys and clothes used or swaps it with people in the neighborhood via Facebook. “In exchange for a few bottles of organic wine, I got three dolls for my daughter.”

What if the kids walk past a toy store and want all kinds of things? “I photograph what they indicate and do a search on Marktplaats. I explain to them that it may take a while before we find the wand or the fire engine. They know we don’t participate in ‘order now, delivered tomorrow’.” And what do you say when your child complains about things that are not there at home? “I try to approach it positive: We don’t buy a pack of cookies, but bake them ourselves. Together. Much nicer, right?”

be realistic

Mascha Bongenaar also tries to approach changes in the house with joy: “I wanted the children to take shorter showers and bought a second-hand bath radio. They were allowed to choose their favorite song under 3 minutes. Before the song is over, the faucet is turned off.” For children’s parties, she gives an experience as a gift: “Going to the cinema with a friend instead of something from the Action, which breaks quickly.” Many things are taken for granted, she says. We don’t eat meat, but we don’t talk about it, there’s just a meal on the table. I buy used clothes, my sons and their classmates don’t care that they come from Vinted.” In that respect, young children are still quite docile, but what about when they become teenagers? Bongenaar is already feeling some resistance, her oldest is in grade 8. “He said recently, ‘Mom, I don’t want to hear it, I know Now ‘. So I have to choose the right moment. ”

Dealing with the problem realistically also means you can let it go from time to time. It gives children a sense of security and reduces the pressure for stressed young people to constantly be busy with it. Bongenaar: “If they eat a special frikandel at the end of the sports season, I won’t say anything about it.” Last weekend the family was visiting friends. She wanted to take the bike, but the children said: “Mom, it’s raining, we really don’t feel like it.” Bongenaar: “Then I didn’t say that the ground goes to the buttons and I took the car.” She calls it the climate divide. Sometimes you make climate-unfriendly choices because of a limited budget or time. “It’s human, kids should see that.”

Susan Bögels shares that thought: “You can take off from the climate crisis. Having an eye for the suffering in the world is a nice trait, but it can also lead to mental health problems. ‘Compassion fatigue‘ is a condition that is sometimes experienced by those who help people or animals or the world in need.” It can happen to both parents and young people. Self-compassion is then important. So teach children to take good care of themselves and how to relax Of, says Bögels. ”Important to keep up with it. Sport, relaxation after a school day, hiking, contact with others and nature, meditation. Teach them to ask themselves ‘what do I need?’ This also applies to parents.”

Yes, sometimes Mascha Bongenaar finds it quite tiring to shout all day long: door closed, light off, pressure off. The children had recently played in the dunes and were covered in sand. Then she feels almost guilty as she puts the boys in a hot bath. “While they enjoyed themselves in the water for an hour and a half. They must also be able to be children.”


As children understand and learn more about the climate crisis, they roughly show two types of reactions: anger or total uninteresting. Some young people are angry that previous generations have lived so irresponsibly that they are now left with a mess. Bögels: “It can be good for young people to find like -minded people that they can talk to or trade with. Get them to read about youth sections of political parties or groups such as the Young Climate Movement.” Joining creates a sense of belonging, which is a powerful antidote to depression, she says.

Disinterest also remains the young dip Mentioned: Young people between the ages of 14 and 18 may have a period when they are less concerned about the climate. They realize that it is a global problem and has little influence on it. For some reason to go on the barricades, for many just a phase where they are focused on themselves. Bögels: “It is normal for children to push themselves. You have to have faith that it will be okay.” That’s how Janzen sees it too. If her daughter later refuses to wear second-hand clothes or buy cheap make-up from Primark, then I have to accept it and hope it’s temporary. I now show them all the possibilities. When they get older, it’s up to them what they do with it.”

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