Parents ask me what they can do to improve kids’ mental health. They are surprised when I mention outdoor play. Oh, sometimes I recommend a parenting course for the parents. Other times I suggest spending more time with the kids… and, at times, I’ll suggest encouraging uniqueness or cultivating a spirit of independence in a particular child. For kids with ADHD, I may suggest more structure at home or in the classroom. But… What is the single most powerful and urgent suggestion I offer?
Simple… Grab your kid, go and play outdoors!
Out Of Shape and Stressed Out Kids
We have a nation of obese, play-starved kids who are growing up on video games and living life with cell phones plastered to their ears. Most of the children I see in my counseling practice are in need of more physical activity. And physical activity is good for body, mind and soul! Our kids need to play more and to play outdoors. What a terrific way to combat childhood obesity!
Play-starved kids want and need more time spent in the great outdoors, especially city kids. I saw an eight year-old girl yesterday. When asked what she wished she could have or do more than anything else in her life she replied, “I want to go to the park more often!”
I’ll go over the benefits later in the article, but allow me to say the benefits of more outdoor play are fantastic! Think about your kids’ mental health… Consider that the average child spends less than 10 minutes a day outside. And allow me to say that our kids absolutely need more unstructured play time outside! Why? Because it is essential for their healthy development and maturation.
How to Help Your Child Live a Happier, Healthier Life
1. You are the key to your kids’ mental health, well-being and success. You can be a great role model. Just turn off the TV or put down your electronic gadget and go outside (with kids in tow) and do something! You can take an early morning walk. Shoot hoops, toss horseshoes or go for a bike ride. Get your family MOVING! Outdoor play will make your children happy! And it will keep ’em moving. That is the key to raising a healthy, fit and happy child… more outdoor play.
2. If you want to make a change in a child’s life you have to do something different. Otherwise you’ll keep getting the same results. So… Visit your local neighborhood, city, state or national park more often. Outdoor play is very helpful for children with ADHD.
3. Teach (by doing) your children to enjoy nature in skillful ways. In other words, take them swimming and canoeing, fishing and rowing, bird watching, hiking and skiing, target shooting and rock climbing. Arrange for them to get good, safe instruction and supervision, and frequent practice, so they can develop the skill set needed for each outdoor activity. And they will learn to love being outside engaging in their favorite sport or activity. You’ll find their self-confidence and happiness index growing with each activity they master!
4. Here’s a big key to your kid’s mental health. Give time for unstructured enjoyment of the outdoors, such as sitting on a blanket, watching the clouds, skipping stones, rolling in the grass, listening to waterfalls and playing tag. Kids really need this kind of stress busting time in nature. Learning to do nothing in a beautiful outdoor area is a lifelong value and skill you’ll be imparting. Nature is healing and restful, challenging and stimulating. Kids who are nature-savvy are healthier and happier than others. So get those play-starved kids up and running in the great outdoors!
5. Get friends, family and other kids involved, too. You’ll add a nice social component and you’ll build strength in the group ethic. You can take your group to the park today and your neighbor can take them tomorrow. Draw upon your support system, consisting of relatives and friends, to help you get your children and adolescents out of the house and into the sunshine. You can find creative ways of setting up an environment for fostering health, success and well-being in your young family members. Outdoor play will fight childhood obesity, too.
The Benefits of Outdoor Play
Greater self-confidence, better attitude, improved mental and physical health, enhanced cooperation and teamwork, opportunities for spiritual growth, a deeper understanding of and respect for wildlife, a healthier brain, improved problem solving skills, and greater happiness, to name a few!
Outdoor play will bring the family together and reinforce all-important family values to guide and protect your child throughout his/her life.
Plus, outdoor play is a wonderful outlet for excess energy for all children and teenagers, especially those high-energy kids or those with ADHD. Outdoor play and time spent in nature can reduce depression, anxiety and anger. Outdoor play can give ADHDers an opportunity to blow off some steam and gain valuable experience stretching their legs, building their muscles and gaining coordination. Also, remember more outdoor play will help your kids fight childhood obesity.
Get your kids outside doing, playing and exercising… and having fun doing nothing. You’ll give them one of the greatest gifts you could ever give. And you’ll help them build a foundation for a great life, full of meaningful endeavor, happiness and success! The key? More outdoor play!
Richard Hamon is a professional therapist and coach with over 30 years of experience. Richard helps people to solve their problems, enjoy truly extraordinary relationships and find meaning, value and success in all areas of their lives.
Find helpful tips and hints on conducting state-of-the-art relationships, building a happier family, and get information on the latest research on happiness here: http://happy-relationships.com.
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