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Kids & eco anxiety: how to tackle it

Getting past the doom and gloom to focus on positive action isn't always easy - but here's how from Leisa Stewart-Sharpe, who's written books for Sir David Attenborough's TV series

Is eco anxiety really a ‘thing’ for kids?

Absolutely. I’ve got an 8 and 6-year-old and eco anxiety is very real for them and their friends. Not to put too dramatic a twist on it, but it’s that gnawing fear of environmental doom. I’ve sat beside my 8-year-old as she cried herself to sleep after a lesson on extreme weather. It’s safe to say photos of the world on fire really are the stuff of nightmares.

So you decided to do something about it! How did you set about it?

I’ve spent 3 years interviewing scientists, activists and conservationists all over the world to write What a Wonderful World. I’m trying to do my best to educate them without completely terrifying them and in a way that’s hopeful. In writing it, I sought out stories that give young people hope that the climate crisis isn’t being left to their generation to sort out.

And did you find any that resonate with kids – besides Greta?

Oh yes! My book includes the stories of 35 ‘Earth Shakers’ who are standing up for nature from all over the world, young and old. One inspiring example is of Indonesian sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen who hated plastic so much, they started a campaign that got single use plastic banned on their island of Bali, or closer to home, there’s the cousins Kyra and Sophie who set up a hospital for injured hedgehogs – they’ve saved over 550 so far!

Is this your first book about the environment?

No – I authored Blue Planet II and The Green Planet – part of a non-fiction series in collaboration with BBC Earth to accompany David Attenborough’s series. And I’ve got five books coming out in 2022 – watch this space!

Did you meet the big guy?

I’ve not met Sir David sadly but I did get a lovely letter from him once. I always remember that quote by him: “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” That’s why I like to give children those bedside experiences of our world, to spark their imaginations and understand what we’re fighting to protect.

You grew up snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. How does Bucks compare?

I live in the bottom of a valley in the Chilterns and spend my days striding over the chalk hills, probably muttering to myself as I work through my writers’ block. Our garden is wild and unwieldy, visited by red kites, barn owls, lots of muntjac and roe deer (I love them less when they’re munching through my brassica in the veg patch). My favourite visitors are the jackdaws – we have one clever one that pops by for lunch.

LEISA’S FIVE TIPS TO HELP KIDS WITH ECO ANXIETY

Knowledge is power Firstly, it’s okay to feel scared. This genuinely is a scary moment for humanity. But we all know that being in the dark on something can heighten those feelings of anxiety. Don’t fear the unknown – fight it with facts. I’m not talking about a casual Google search littered with alarming, click-bait headlines, but up-to-date information from trusted sources.

1

Take action Empowered by facts, families can then start to make choices in their day-to-day lives that give children some control. These choices don’t have to be huge, sweeping changes. Things young people can get involved with, include taking care of the household recycling to composting.

2

Find your wolf pack I’ll never forget how it felt walking through the streets of Oxford on my first climate march. Finding like-minded people who care about the same things that you do, is a great way to feel supported and learn from each other. For young people, it could be as simple as joining in or setting up an eco-club at school or in their local girl guide or scout group.

3

Spend time in nature The world is wonderful, and it’s easy to forget that in a litany of bad news. So, get out into our wonderful world and enjoy it. Go for a walk, grow something, plant a tree, join in a litter pick, connect with nature – you’ll all feel better for it.

4

Give them HOPE We’re down . . . but we’re not out. Humans are capable of extraordinary things. We’ve built pyramids, we’ve cured diseases, we’ve landed on the moon. But I’d like to think that dealing with the climate crisis could be our greatest moment yet!

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Want to check out Leisa’s books? They’re all on her website

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