- Self-efficacy beliefs are among the most important beliefs to foster in children throughout their lives.
- Children with high self-efficacy are better able to face setbacks and focus on making progress.
- Participating in even brief environmental activities, such as a school cleanup, can increase self-efficacy.
Developing high self-efficacy is like developing a superpower. World Environment Day is June 5, and it has a world of opportunities to empower children and help increase their self-efficacy as they celebrate their environment.
Self-efficacy refers to confidence in oneself and one’s ability to accomplish things in a particular area of life such as school, health, eating, relationships, or exercise (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997). People with higher self-efficacy are better able to work through setbacks and focus on making progress, such as when a child with high academic self-efficacy studies harder after getting a poor grade rather than losing confidence and giving up.
Not everyone can be a star artist, athlete, dancer, singer, or student, but many people can build self-efficacy by taking small actions on behalf of their environment. In a study of over 400 youth between the ages of 11 and 18, those who participated in or planned to participate in environmental activities such as a school cleanup or beach cleanup had higher self-efficacy (Baldwin et al., 2022).
On World Environment Day, here are 10 simple and brief suggestions for empowering children and building their self-efficacy about making a difference in their environment.
- Gather books, clothing, furniture, housewares, sporting goods, and toys to donate so that others can reuse them.
- Grow a vegetable plant in your home or school or plant a garden outside. It’s educational and fun, and it saves a trip to the store for fresh vegetables.
- Save energy by enjoying natural light rather than turning on lights.
- Save energy by adding clothing or removing clothing, as appropriate, before using or turning up heating and cooling units.
- Reduce electricity use by turning off computers and appliances when not in use.
- Take care to put trash and paper, cardboard, and plastic recycling in their bins. Otherwise, plastic and other waste may be blown into waterways, polluting water, harming marine life, and damaging food sources.
- Use reusable items for drinking, eating, and shopping, and reduce the use of single-use water bottles and other single-use plastic items.
- Reduce water use by turning off the faucet while brushing teeth and soaping hands. Conserve water while bathing.
- Spread the word on environmental activities with friends, family, and community members. Organize a household, neighborhood, and/or community cleanup or planting of a vegetable garden or trees. Be aware of environmental exposures and hazards, and, if appropriate, wear gloves and masks.
- Explore ways to increase awareness of sustainability and ways to contribute to a healthy environment. Environmental education builds children’s self-efficacy (Baldwin et al., 2022; Bartlett et al., 2022). Consider watching a video clip or film, borrowing a book, or going on an environmental outing. The above tips are just the tip of the iceberg of ways to get informed, involved, and build self-efficacy around environmental issues.
If possible, try to encourage staying engaged and involved in some way over time. Determine whether any of the above or other activities can be a daily, monthly, or yearly habit, such as celebrating World Environment Day each year. The benefits of staying involved have the potential to multiply.
Staying involved can continue to feed children’s self-efficacy. Higher self-efficacy can lead to higher interest and involvement in environmental issues, thus reinforcing a positive cycle of involvement and self-efficacy (Bartlet et al. 2022).
Staying involved in environmental issues can help reduce children’s anxiety and feelings of despair about climate change. Studies of children around the world indicate that children are expressing a host of negative emotions about climate change including anxiety and sadness (Hickman et al., 2021). However, involvement in environmental activities can increase both self-efficacy and hope. A study with over 700 high school students found that belief in feeling personally effective at addressing environmental issues increased their hope (Li & Monroe, 2019).
Staying involved also helps directly address the climate crisis (Levy, Sternisko, et al., 2022). Children should be acknowledged and celebrated as inspirational and effective contributors and leaders in addressing climate change (Levy, Migacheva, et al., 2022). Such recognitions also contribute to self-efficacy and hope.
We have the potential to grow our self-efficacy in just about any domain (environment, exercise, health, relationships, school, work) at any age. One way we can celebrate World Environment Day this year is by fostering our self-efficacy while making progress on a healthier environment for today's and tomorrow's children and all living things.
Baldwin, C., Pickering, G., & Dale, G. (2022). Knowledge and self-efficacy of youth to take action on climate change. Environmental Education Research, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2022.2121381
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.
Bartlett, M., Larson, J., & Lee, S. (2022). Environmental Justice Pedagogies and Self-Efficacy for Climate Action. Sustainability, 14(22), 15086. MDPI AG. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su142215086
Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: A global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(12). https://doi.org/10.1016/s2542-5196(21)00278-3
Levy, S.R., Migacheva, K., Ramírez, L., Okorodudu, C., Cook, H., Araujo-Soares, V., Minescu, A., Livert, D., Ragin, D.F., & Walker, P. (2022). A Human Rights Based Approach to the Global Children’s Rights Crisis: A Call to Action. Journal of Social Issues, 78(4), 1085-1097. https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/josi.12563
Levy, S.R., Sternisko, A., Walker, P., Okorodudu, C., Ragin, D.F., Cook, H., Livert, D., Ryan, M., & Mancoll, S. (2022). Following COP 27, as the World’s Nations Enter 2023, SPSSI Urges Tangible Progress to Remedy Climate Injustice. Retrieved from http://www.spssi.org/cop27
Li, C, and M. Monroe. 2019. “Exploring the Essential Psychological Factors in Fostering Hope concerning Climate Change.” Environmental Education Research 25 (6): 936–954.https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2017.1367916