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Support the Mental Health of the Kids in Your Life by Practicing Self-Care in Nature

Girls lying on grass in sunglasses

May is an exciting time in children’s lives. The school year is winding down, state testing has wrapped up, and summer is just within reach. At the same time, May can be a time of great anxiety for kids, since the whole pattern of their lives is disrupted.

May is also Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to remember that childhood isn’t all fun and games. According to some statistics, one in five children has a diagnosable mental health problem.

The most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children are ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you believe a child in your life is suffering, please try to get that child help from a counselor or physician right away.

Fortunately, families and caregivers can help support the mental health of children by promoting positive behaviors, modeling self-care and giving children tools to help get through difficult times. One tool that has been proven to be effective? Connecting children to nature.

A recent review published by the Journal of Pediatric Nursing and referenced by the American Psychiatric Association found that “access to green space was associated with improved mental well-being and overall health. Additionally, the study found that access to green space promotes memory, supportive social groups, and self-discipline, moderates stress, and improves behaviors and symptoms of ADHD.”

The American Psychiatric Association quoted Cathy Jordan, director for leadership and education at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota and director of research for the Children & Nature Network, about the importance of nature in the mental health of children: “We shouldn’t be saying nature is just a luxury or that it’s O.K. that only the most advantaged kids who live near wonderful parks get to go there. We actually have enough information to say it’s potentially powerful enough that we would be remiss not to provide equitable access to all kids, especially those who have the most to gain.”

The Garden’s Children and Family Education team stays on top of research on nature and mental health, and our educators see every day how children respond to nature. Of course, they realize that it’s not always easy to get kids outside and away from screens. They encourage families to be intentional about connecting children with nature by incorporating activities like these into their schedule:

Connect to the earth. Feel to the earth directly with your body. Sit, stand, lay or walk on a natural surface such as grass, sand or dirt with your bare feet. What do you notice? How do you feel?

Engage all five senses. Go outside and identify the following:

Five things you can see.

Four things you can feel.

Three things you can hear.

Two things you can smell.

One thing you can taste.

Bring nature inside. When the Texas summer heats up, it can be hard to spend a lot of time outside. So bring nature in. Can you add houseplants to your home, or even make a plant the responsibility of your child? Can you decorate with natural items such as pinecones, dried flowers, sea shells or use them in art activities?

Move around outside. While it can be fun to immerse yourself in nature–with a long camping trip, for example–children and families can still benefit from nature in smaller doses. Plan a walk around the block with your kids, a bike ride through the neighborhood, or even a dance break on the porch.

Time in nature can’t cure all mental health problems in children, but it can help reduce stress and anxiety, build resilience and forge close bonds between family members. We encourage you to find wholeness for yourself and your entire family in the natural world.

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