Kids Who Spend Time Outside in Nature Have Fewer Behavioral Issues, Study Says

Here’s another great reason to get your kids outside!

By: Amanda Mushro

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Photo by: Alistair Berg

Alistair Berg

There’s a good reason why kids say their favorite part of school is recess. Being outside, playing with friends, and simply just being a kid makes them feel happy. We can all relate to that! Spending time outdoors, in the fresh air, can quickly improve our mood. While our busy schedules can often keep us indoors more than we like, there’s evidence that getting kids outside to play not only makes them happier, but it also impacts their behavior. So, if your kids are sitting on the couch and staring at a screen, it’s time to get them outside.

In this new study, researchers examined whether children's connection to nature changed during the pandemic. For the study, 376 families with young children between the ages of 3 and 7 reported their time indoors and outdoors during the pandemic. Parents were asked to fill out a survey about their child’s time and connection to nature changing, and what researchers found was fascinating.

First, nearly two-thirds of parents reported an increase in their child's connection to nature and also reported improvements in their child’s overall behavior. So, kids who spent more time outside in nature during lockdown were reported to be happier, more well-behaved, and less anxious. However, parents who reported a decrease in time spent outside for their kids reported an increase in behavioral issues, such as acting out, sadness and anxiety.

"Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread devastation and loss and has significantly impacted millions of people's well-being and livelihood," researchers from the study noted. "However, this upheaval has also provided many with an opportunity to reflect and to recognize the importance of nature, and children's connection to nature, as a means of addressing increasing mental health problems in young people."

Parents had a variety of explanations for their kids being outside more during the pandemic, including having more time to do so, increased enjoyment of nature, and increased awareness or interest in nature (such as animals, birds or bugs).

Researchers also noted that kids from more affluent families spent more time outdoors than their less affluent peers. "While connecting to nature may be an effective means of addressing child problems of well-being, the divergent findings for children from different family backgrounds indicate that efforts to enhance connection to nature should focus on the barriers experienced by children from less affluent families," the study states.

One parent encapsulated the findings of the study, explaining, "Our lives have slowed down and so, we notice the tiny things, the growth in plants from one day to the next. It has been a very weird headspace, viral armageddon (sic) on our doorsteps, but simple, quiet beauty of the natural world in our back garden. The former very scary, the latter very comforting."

So, as we move into a new stage of the pandemic, researchers hope that parents, teachers, and policy makers can take these findings into consideration when figuring out how to help children’s mental health, behavior, and physical activity. Fortunately, the solutions are pretty straightforward: Get kids outside in nature and join them!

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