Tag Archive for outdoors

Raising Children Who Love

I ran across this wonderful poem by Nicolette Sowder. I wanted to share it with you.

May we raise children who love the unloved things–dandelion, the worms and spiderlings. Children who sense the rose needs the thorn

& run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun…

And when they’re grown & someone has to speak for those who have no voice

may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things

It’s a beautiful wish for all families and children, a hope for our children and our world. I pray you will “raise children who love the unloved.” It begins with you loving them and exploring, with them the small, wild aspects of the world that others take for granted. For one day we may find ourselves in the category of the “unloved things” who desire our children’s love. (PS-Please see link for the proper layout of the poem. I couldn’t get the layout to transfer to this blog.)

Clues Learned During the Pandemic for Future Parenting

I remember when the pandemic started. I thought it would last 6-12 months. Boy was I wrong. The longer it drags on, the greater impact it seems to have on our mental health and the mental health of our children. A study published in PLOS ONE, 2021, however, offers some wonderful wisdom for promoting our children’s resilience and mental health during this time. This study recruited 224 participants between the ages of 7 and 15 years from two longitudinal studies of children and adolescents in the Greater Seattle area. They gave these youth and their parents a battery of questionnaires assessing social behaviors, psychopathology, and pandemic-related stresses in November of 2020. They gave them a follow-up battery of questionnaires in January or 2021. Because the youth were participants in a larger longitudinal study, the researchers also had access to their social behaviors, psychopathology, and related stresses prior to the pandemic.

In short, the research suggested:

  • The number of pandemic-related stresses they experienced (serious illness or death of a friend or family as well as quarantine, exposures, significant financial changes, social isolation, changes in community involvement, etc.) was positively associated with mental health symptoms and behavioral difficulties.
  • Youth who spent less time on digital devices and consumed less than two hours of news per day exhibited fewer mental health symptoms. In fact, “the strong association between pandemic-related stressors and psychopathology was absent among children with lower amounts of screen time and news media consumption.”
  • Youth who got the recommended amount of sleep and those who had a more structured daily routine during stay-at-home orders had lower levels of behavioral symptoms.
  • Those youth who spent greater amounts of time in nature exhibited a somewhat lower level of mental health symptoms.

This offers parents some excellent advice about how to help our children navigate the unpredictability created by the pandemic. First, develop a positive daily routine for your family and children. This routine might include a family meal, homework time, play time, various community activities, a regular bedtime and bedtime routine.

Second, limit screen time. Our children (and many of us) can easily find themselves sucked into video games, social media interactions, simply scrolling social media platforms, or binging Netflix. Unfortunately, social media platforms become stressful when we do not limit our involvement. Video games can rob us of other stress reducing activities like face-to-face interactions with family and friends. In fact, studies suggest the more screen time a teen engages in the less happy they become.

Third, limit your children’s exposure to news media about the pandemic. It’s good to get some news about the pandemic, other “world happenings,” and politics. However, it can easily become overwhelming, and our children may not have developed the emotional resources to manage the stress of the overwhelming, nonstop, 24-hour a day barrage of news. Really, how many of us have chosen to limit news intake for the same reason? Teach your children to be wise consumers of news and social media just as you teach them to be a wise consumer of food.

Fourth, get outside. Spend some time in nature. Nature promotes health. It helps to reduce stress and increases happiness.

Finally, establish healthy sleep hygiene. Sleep is crucial to our mental health, especially during times of increased stress.

These five suggestions will help you and your children navigate the times of this pandemic while maintaining emotional health and further developing resilience. Ironically, these five suggestions will also serve to nurture healthy children when the pandemic ends. So, start practicing them now and keep them up when we finally navigate our way to the other side of this troubled time. Even then, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well these five suggestions help your children live happier, healthier lives.

The Top 10 Ways to Promote Happiness in Your Family

Promote happiness in our families? I know I’d like to do that. How about you? Well, researchers in the UK may help us find an answer. They used smartphones to assess the happiness of “tens of thousands of individuals” engaged in various activities (39 specifically) at random times. Not surprisingly, the top activity contributing to happiness was “intimacy” and “making love.” Apparently, we enjoy intimate relationships (no surprise there). Our intimate relationships bring us happiness. That’s where we begin to promote happiness in our families…by building relationships.

The top 10 activities that brought people the greatest happiness in this study might be broadly sorted into three categories.

  • Outdoor activities like walking/hiking, hunting/fishing, gardening, birdwatching, and sports/exercising were noted to increase happiness. Each was in the top 10 activities promoting happiness.
  • A category I will call “artistic activities” also increased happiness. Artistic activities in the top 10 activities promoting happiness included theatre/dance/concert, museum/library, and singing. If we participate as an audience member in these activities, we often experience a sense of awe that can contribute to happiness. If we are a participant in the actual activity, we experience comradery and a potential syncing with other people.
  • Socialization activities contributed to happiness as well. This includes activities like talking/chatting/socializing and, of course, intimacy/making love. I would add a caveat. All the other activities listed in the top ten activities may easily involve socialization. We may engage in outdoor activities or artistic activities with other people. They may be activities that help us develop the intimacy that brings us happiness.

What does this mean for your family? You can increase your family happiness by engaging in outdoor activities and artistic activities together. Activities may range from fishing to going to the museum to singing together while gardening in the back yard. As you enjoy these various activities, socialize. Talk and chat. Enjoy one another’s company. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Now grab your spouse, your children, your parent…and get out there to nurture a happy family!

Family Happiness -Tips From Norway

Winter approaches quickly as the days get shorter and the nights longer. Many people suffer from more sadness and even depression as we move through winter. (Click here for more information on SAD.) We may find an even greater struggle this year as the number of COVID cases increase our levels of anxiety and force many to stay inside even more than usual. In the midst of this dark winter, a light of hope appears. An article in the Good News Network suggests this light of hope may come to us by way of the “Norwegians’ unique cultural mindset.” Norway experiences as little as 30 hours of sunlight in December. Their winter nights are long; their days are short. However, they have small numbers of people who suffer from SAD. Perhaps their “unique cultural mindset” protects them…and perhaps we can adopt their “unique cultural mindset” to help us survive our winter days and the current pandemic. What does this mindset involve? Good question.

People like those in Norway choose to view the dark days of the sun-deprived winters as an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity. Their use their internal and external dialogues to speak of the opportunities that winter presents. Rather than saying “Winter is boring,” they focus on “the many things to enjoy about winter,” the “coziness of winter months,” and the “activities only available in winter.” You may think this simple “positive thinking” is a waste of time. But how we frame our outlook on the current situation and the future has an impact on our overall mental health. Martin Seligman calls this healthy framing “learned optimism.” Studies suggest that this “optimistic frame” not only leads to improved mental health but improved physical health and higher motivation as well. So, rather than look at the ways winter “brings you down,” begin to explore the possibilities winter brings. It brings the possibility of learning a new craft, of snuggling on the couch, of learning to ski or play hockey. Winter brings the possibility of games and get-togethers as well as the opportunity to witness a different beauty outside…which brings me to another “hint from Norway.”

The Norway people apparently enjoy “friluftsliv,” or “free air life.” Friluftsliv involves enjoying outdoor, physical activities at your own pace. It can include activities as simple as taking a family walk to fishing to skiing, whatever activity you and your family might enjoy in the “great outdoors.”  

So, rather than let your family get bogged down by the cold, short days, and long nights of winter, do like they do in Norway. Reframe your inner dialogue and your conversation to talk about the opportunities of winter. Then get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. It might just give your family a little more “hygge” (Oh wait, wrong country. That’s Danish and another way to help avoid the winter blues. Learn more in Make a Little Christmas Hygge anytime of the year.) Enjoy!

A Less Stressful Family in Only 20 Minutes!

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology has established, for the first time, the effective dosage for a safe prescription aimed at reducing stress. This study established the most appropriate and effect dosage over an 8-week study in which participants followed various levels of the prescription 3 times a day. The treatment prescription did not involve medication in any form. It only involved spending at least 10 minutes during daylight hours outside “interacting” with nature—no aerobic exercise, no social media, no phone calls, no reading—just enjoying nature. That’s right. Spending time immersed in nature was the prescription.

The results indicated that 20 minutes in nature “significantly reduced cortisol levels,” one of the biological markers of stress. In fact, 20-30 minutes was the “sweet spot” in which cortisol levels dropped at their greatest rate. After 30 minutes, a person still experienced a decrease in stress but at a much slower rate. 

Do you ever feel stressed? Do you ever notice your family feeling stressed? Here is a simple prescription to relieve that stress: leave your cell phones, books, and computers in the car and spend 20-30 minutes walking in the park or the nearby woods or along the creek…you know, in nature. Enjoy the sounds and the colors. Enjoy the birds and other wildlife. Enjoy “Shinrin-Yoku,” or “forest bathing.” Your stress will decrease. Your family’s stress will decrease. If you go with your family, you may find yourself enjoying one another’s company as well. Decreased stress. Increased connection. No negative side effects. Sounds like a great prescription. I’m inviting my family to take this prescription with me today. How about you?

Don’t Make Children Prisoners…Set Them Free

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I repeated out loud what I had read. Nope…can’t believe my ears either. But it’s true. Prison inmates in an Indiana maximum security facility are guaranteed two hours of outdoor time every day; but a survey completed in 2016 found three-quarters of children in the UK spend less time than those inmates outside each day. Half of the children didn’t even spend an hour outside each day. Twenty percent (that’s 1 in 5) didn’t even play outside at all on an average day! (More in Children Spend Less Time Outside Than Prison Inmates and Three-Quarters of UK Children Spend Less Time Outdoors Than Prison Inmates—Survey.) I imagine these numbers are very similar in the US.  In fact, a study in 2018 found that children spend an average of 10.6 hours on outdoor play per week (Study: Despite Known Benefits, Kids Are Playing Less). That is only 1.5 hours per day. Our children spend less time outside than prisoners even though outdoor play helps relieve stress, teach safety, and increase immunity (Who Needs a Prescription for Play).

It gets worse. Our children’s free time has decreased in the last 50 years. Take the time between 1981 and 1997. Children spent 18% more time in school, 145% more time doing schoolwork, and 168% more time shopping with parents (Read more in All Work & No Play: Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed). Unstructured play time has decreased even though research suggests children need twice as much unstructured play time as structured time (The Decline of Unstructured Play). Once again, our children have become the prisoners to the structures imposed on them. They miss out on the free, unstructured time that allows them to grow and learn.

One last comparison…our children grow increasingly isolated from supportive, non-parental adults as they progress through school. Rather than have a single teacher for most of the day, our children gain a “revolving cast of characters” in their lives as they switch to a new teacher every hour. This change occurs when our children are going through the massive changes of adolescence and they most need the support of caring adults. (Teen Suicides Are on the Rise.)  In effect, they become less isolated from caring adults and more involved with peers struggling with the same issues and who have the same lack of experience as they do. Our children need us.

The big question I had to ask myself as I contemplated these “prisoner comparisons” is: what can we do to break our children out of this prison? Thankfully, there are ways to do it. 

  • Encourage your children to engage in unstructured, self-directed play with peers. Learn the benefits of such unstructured time in How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.
  • Encourage outdoor play. Outdoor play can accomplish great things. For instance, even risky outdoor play plays a purpose, helping to overcome anxiety…so Let Them Take a Risk.
  • Limit screen time. Limiting screen time can increase levels of happiness and increase our ability to  understand nonverbal communications and recognize emotions in others (See Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness).
  • Provide opportunities for your children to build relationships with trusted adults outside the immediate family. In fact, It Takes a Village to raise a child.

Break your children out of prison…beginning right now!