How Parents Can Tame the Stress of Climate Crises

Parents expect a lot from themselves normally. But when the world is in a state of upheaval, it’s no longer parenting-as-usual. How can overwhelmed parents keep their families afloat?

Kids take emotional cues from parents, so when parents calm themselves, they can help calm family members. Psychologists call this co-regulation.

Dr. Ginsburg said that during stressful times, the job of a parent of young children is “to look like a duck gliding on the water,” creating an atmosphere of safety and comfort. Adolescents, though, “need to know what you are doing to stay afloat,” he said. “You show them how you’re paddling your feet underwater because you want to help build their skill set.”

Classic stress relievers — getting exercise, deep breathing, spending time in nature, and creative self-expression (art, music, dance, writing)— are helpful. So are safety planning and emergency preparedness. But some additional stress-reducing behaviors are particularly suited for climate catastrophe and quarantine.

Research tells us that social isolation is an acute stressor, while connection heals. But while physical distancing limits us, we must find ways to maintain social connections.

Merritt Juliano, co-president of Climate Psychology Alliance North America, plans to offer free, virtual “Climate Cafes” for parents to exchange supportive dialogue around the climate emergency. Climate cafes — not just for parents — are happening all over the world; in the pre-Covid era, they were held at cafes or other public spaces. Typically, a facilitator is present to encourage reflectiveness and sharing thoughts and feelings around the issue of climate change. Ms. Juliano said: “The single-most important thing parents can do to build resilience is their own inner work around climate change. Having processed their emotional reactions, and accepted the situation, they can then stay present with their kids.”

Routine and predictability offset chaos. “There are so many things that we can’t do, so it is important to find things that we can do right now,” said Dr. Bonnie Goldstein, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. “The goal is to feel a little more in control.” Establishing daily structure and maintaining routines encourages nervous systems to settle. As Dr. Ginsburg put it: “We cannot control the outside world, but we can be intentional about creating sanctuaries within our homes.”

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