Devastating impact of flooding causing increased climate anxiety among children

Involving children more in the aftermath of severe flood events could prove key to reducing fear of future disasters.

Harrowing images of families being rescued from their homes have hit television screens in recent weeks, as flooding has devastated communities across the country.

The UK Government announced the clean-up operation in parts of the UK would stretch far into the weeks ahead.

But as water levels drop, and repair work gets underway, the psychological impact of flooding on those affected could linger long beyond that.

Florence Halstead, a PhD researcher at the University of Hull, said children are now more at risk of experiencing “climate anxiety,” as the likelihood of large storm and flood events increases.

As inspirational voices, including campaigner Greta Thunberg, are mobilising a youth-based movement to address climate change, Florence’s research investigates how children are perceiving flooding and climate change on an international scale.

Florence said: “A lot of research has been done on the damaging impact flooding can have on children.

“It is a traumatic incident, and is something which can be psychologically damaging to children. We are also now starting to see an increase in what we refer to as ‘climate anxiety.’

“It is not just fear during the flooding, or even post-event – it is the anticipation of flooding in the future that can have some of the biggest impacts on children.

“Children are now more aware than ever of climate change and the impact of flooding, and while their awareness is important, it also means they have more to be afraid of.”

Recent weeks have seen severe flooding devastate communities across the UK.

In East Yorkshire, families in the town of Snaith and neighbouring East Cowick were forced to flee their homes as the River Aire overtopped its banks.


Florence’s research at the University of Hull has examined the perceptions and experiences of children exposed to flooding both in the UK and in the Mekong delta, Vietnam.

From her review of the literature, Florence has devised a list of five tips to help children recover from disasters such as flooding.

It includes:

  • Encourage children to talk

Even if a child seems fine, let them know that their feelings are important and let their voice be heard.

  • Involve kids in the clean-up

Previous research on flooding shows that children who are involved in the clean-up and recovery process, have a much better sense of the situation and experience less trauma.

  • Know that they might struggle

Monitor your child’s behaviour and keep a close eye on them to check if they are acting differently.

  • Give kids the facts

This is hard to do and is a delicate balance. Whilst the last thing we want to do is scaremonger our children, a key step in helping build their resilience is their awareness and understanding.

  • Try to create a routine and stick to it

Try to maintain as much routine in your child’s life as possible. This might be hard if you have to move to temporary accommodation or if their school closes, but by maintaining a routine that you can control – like meal and bed times – you can provide a sense of reassurance.


‘From the very beginning of planning for flood events, children can be left out’

But how can we better equip children to cope with the harrowing flood images we have seen across the UK this year, as Storm Ciara and Dennis swept across the country?

Florence said: “One thing I have found is that, from the very beginning of planning for flood events, children can be left out of the process.

“We see them often as vulnerable, being without their own ideas, or not being able to do things about it themselves.

“Children have a lot to say and are the experts of their own experiences. We need to listen to these voices both during as well as pre and post flooding.

“By supporting children, and by inviting them to be a part of the solution, it could help them cope better.”

Experts including Professor Dan Parsons, director at the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull, have warned communities must become more resilient to severe flood events, as their frequency is accelerated by climate change.

The answer could lie with Ark, a £15m National Flood Resilience Centre proposed for a site in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire.

A joint bid by the University of Hull and Humberside Fire & Rescue Service, the centre would include a street scene and water rapids course, providing emergency services with a simulated environment for flood events.

It would also act as a research base for property-level and community flood resilience and innovation.

With Chancellor Rishi Sunak set to present his Budget Statement on Wednesday, attention turns to whether funding will be secured for Ark, bringing a world-leading flood centre to the Humber region.

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