Yelling. Crying. Stomping. Emotional Ups and Downs. Withdrawal.
If you've got a teenager in your house you recognize this scene.
What if I told you I had a gift you could give your child to help them through the rocky years of adolescence? It's free, readily available and life-changing. The only catch is that it is best to start giving it to them when they are young.
I am talking about a love of the outdoors. Plenty of evidence exists supporting the mental health benefits of nature, but being able to internalize the fact that being outside calms, quiets the mind and makes you feel better all around, is learned through experience. Kids might not even be able to verbalize those things but they come to connect the outside with postivie emotions - which are often far and few between in those adolescent years.
It's really hard to walk by a babbling brook and not feel calmed.
Teen years are challenging - we have all experienced it. The pressures kids face today are more difficult than ever. The need for academic sucess, the challenge of relationships, managing emotional ups and downs, and peer pressure can lead to explosive results. Anxiety levels are at an all time high. It is hard to watch our kids experience these things but we can help by giving them some tools to manage the symptoms. It is sort of like a pressure cooker - if you don't let off a little steam, it will explode!
Coping skills are things we use to manage the stressors in our life. Some are healthy - taking a deep breath before speaking, talking to a friend or writing down your feelings. Others are not so healthy, such as overeating, yelling or worse yet, substance abuse. Being able to remove yourself from a situation and take a walk outside or go for a bike ride are far better options than drugs or alchohol. Teens are known for their risky behavior - it is part of how they develop into independent adults. I would much rather have them climb a tree or go hammocking than some of the more destructive options. And when self-esteem is under attack, there is nothing as great as the feeling of accomplishment of taking a long hike or climbing some rocks to provide a boost in confidence.
Being immersed in nature grounds you. It calms you. It gives you a sense of place. physical activity provides endorphins. What teen wouldn't benefit from these perks of being outside?
But having a comfort level with nature begins early in life. Start getting kids outside when they are young. Seek green spaces and forests close to home. Resist the urge to let them rely on technology for entertainment. Don't fret if you missed opportunities when they were young - it's never too late to start. Although your teenager may resist a family outing or hike (I know mine often do!), once they are out there and are physically and mentally removed from life's distractions, nature takes over and calms from the inside out. I have seen it time and time again in my own kids. Being outside yourself is the best incentive to get kids outside.
Let's face it, if someone was telling you to do something that they weren't doing themselves - would you do it?
Here are some great ways to get younger kids outside:
1. garden together
2. take family hikes
3. go camping (could be as simple as camping in your backyard)
4. Look at the stars
5. encourage them to build forts in your yard
6. send them to a nature camp (such as Timbernook)
7. Go on a picnic
8. Make a giant bubble wand
9. Create an outdoor obstacle course
10. Make a mud kitchen.
As they get older, plan some outings to nearby green spaces. Take some hikes. Go on picnics. Seek out National Parks.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. There is no end to what kids can do outside. A recent poll says that only 10% of children report going outside on a daily basis. Let's change this alarming trend and arm our teens with experiences that they can draw upon as they encounter the tumultuous season of life.
Hi! I'm Ann - mother of seven, grandmother of two and occupational therapist. My mission is to provide the support families need to raise thriving children and to help you build a family environment that supports healthy development and a pathway to success.
Great blogs to check out:
Rain or Shine Mamma
Children & Nature Network
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