Most days the weather is at its best, but it seems you can’t get your child out of the house, no matter how hard you try.
You know the data, all what those good benefits of getting out of doors would do to your child, but he seems hypnotized by all the electronic devices like it’s a monstrous trap.
You wonder, is that all that life is to kids nowadays?
No thrill of discovering the REAL world like we did back in the good ol’ days?
You also ask yourself where has simplicity gone. Now it feels to entertain your child and his expensive needs, you’ll have to take up more work, and add to your already full plate.
So you tried to force and bribe him… Even banning television and video games.
But somehow it felt even more wrong, and your child began to resent you.
You worry to yourself that your child will end up overweight, sick, unhappy, and living a futile life.
You’re balancing with the guilt of giving up on this issue and the feeling of failing as a parent.
You’re fed up.
You tried your very best, you really did, but now you don’t know what to do with all of that.
There is still hope, I say.
And with what I’m about to suggest to you, I think your child will begin to crave the outdoors.
Mine do (even though they love and have unlimited access to electronics), as I did and still do.
Let me show you the proofs, and how to implement solutions for your own family.
How despite being a modern child I came to delight in the great outdoors
I grew up from 8 to 16-year-old in a suburb area, a cradle of about 100 newly built houses.
But to my mind and spirit, these human constructions weren’t the jewels of the place.
The surrounding Nature was.
I discovered its glory with my first friend at the place. What an awesome time!
We would explore up to 3 miles away, already much more than what most modern kids are allowed in strange settings at that age (and much to my parents’ fright when they found out).
Taking detailed notes about fish in a calm river.
Lazing around in a secret tall grass glade.
We would build with passion a tall tree house project some other children left to abandon.
When we weren’t at school or summer camp, Nature called.
We would leave the matrix of our homes and enter another parallel one to bond with. Freedom was exhilarating, being free to be kids with no imposed rules or norms. Nature was an everlasting source of wonder.
Years passed, and I still went. I think I was of the last kids around who really enjoyed it – video games, computers, and tv programs exerted a strong pull to stay home, the Mario Bros were making their entrance in a big fashion, and playing outdoors wasn’t modeled much or cool anymore.
Often, me and Bounty, our golden retriever, would go to the river to chill out. Well, Boun, to swim and chase fish. One day, jumping from stone to stone, I almost stepped on a sunbathing alligator snapper turtle. What a sighting!
With a crew living on the other side of an under developed industrial area with a forest section, we would bike around. One day, we had the brilliant idea of exploding a couple of WD-40 cans. We were careful in a carefree way, luckily the forest wasn’t damaged and neither of us kids.
What really damaged the nature of my youth was other manmade actions, the neighborhood that expanded and rampaged loved sections, one after another.
Where we played as children is now mostly gone. Chased away by modernity and supersized homes.
The tree house, nested in nature for years, no longer is.
But the actions of my youth let nature grew on me. I reveled in it and now revere it.
You become sensitive to pollution when you see how it pops in pristine vegetation. You try to be mindful of your consumption, like taking on the voluntary simplicity movement.
I became a vegetarian, than a vegan. When you pay attention you also see animals as sacred and can’t bring yourself to killing one, however remotely.
A few years later we have moved further away from Quebec city, in a home with a large forest surrounding it, so that my own children could hopefully enjoy what me and my husband both thrived in as kids.
I feel that our society is missing its connection to nature it had in the past, and it brought us disasters. Because how else can we justify our modern cities, suburbs, pollution? The land is sucked dry, on the border of being barren with patches of cement almost everywhere we look.
No longer can nature can massively guide our actions and elevate our souls.
Our contemporary wants wither Mother Nature away.
I don’t feel we need to continue taking this wrong turn. We can choose to walk away now.
To find safe green homes, or create one for ourselves where we are.
Let’s start with reconnecting our children to nature.
How your sweet child could crave the outdoors without bribery nor force
There are at least 10 powerful ways to reconnect your child with nature, that our whole family tested and some leading research too.
1. Leave him be
Let your kid enjoy fresh air whenever he wants to. Sure, you tell me, but it isn’t happening. To that I say, how do you feel when you’re forced to do something? You back off, usually.
Instead, don’t use any kind of obligation or bribery to get your child outside. Many studies have demonstrated that such techniques are rarely successful in producing lasting changes in attitudes or behavior, says author Alfie Kohn.
What to do? You may for example ask him what his favorite outdoor activity is and facilitate it, like building a tree house together. Try to make the experience as pleasurable as possible, for both of you.
Sincerely express your wonder for the small and big miracles of life, but don’t force him to do the same. It could grow on him, and he could better understand why nature is so important, and how to pay attention to it.
I observed babies are innately good at delighting at nature. Encouraging this virtue or rekindling its flame may just happen when we allow the conditions so it does and get out of the way.
2. Get out of the way
Once a few outings have been done, don’t necessarily plan and participate in other ones. You don’t have to make it a chore for yourself, and in fact, it could do much good if he doesn’t rely on you to develop his love of nature.
Let him be free of roaming the outdoors, let him enjoy the vastness and unbridled joy of being free in nature, according to his capacity.
Rejoice in the fact that it’s great for him. A British Colombia study “found that children who participated in physical activity such as climbing and jumping, rough and tumble play and exploring alone, displayed greater physical and social health”.
3. Unlimited video games?
At the same time, offer access to unlimited indoor play.
Yes, unlimited video games, tv, and all access to electronic devices and other pastimes.
Why? A large-scale study in Holland has shown children who have access to a computer in their rooms play less of it and play more outdoors than peers who do not. If need be, let him take out a device like an iPod to make videos and take pictures of what he’s interested in.
Dr. Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, says “Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.”
He rightly points out that computers are tools that will be useful in their future, and that if we control everything they do, we are sending the message that they can’t decide for themselves what is good for them.
Trust your child will make the best decisions for himself.
4. How freedom is a powerful key
You don’t need to manage and be overly interested in his outdoor activities. When we’re passionate, it motivates us intrinsically. He’ll then be more likely to stick to his new interests and outdoor habits. Let him manage and follow his passions.
“Want passionate kids? Leave ´em alone,” says studies on passions done in Montreal. Autonomy is at the heart of passion. If not, children will do it out of obligation or a fear of disappointing their parents, leading to hating or obsessing over hobbies, or losing self-esteem.
5. How moving isn’t necessarily the right answer
You don’t need to live in natural settings. No selling the house just yet!
Let him find and thrive in the hidden jewels of natural patches around you. Or add more green pastures to your lives, like feeding birds or building an urban garden.
6. How putting yourself first does the trick
Have time to yourself outside too. Follow your own outdoor passions, talk about them, and soon your child could help you around and embrace them too, like gardening, foraging, biking, or swimming.
Imitating a parent’s behavior, an Australian study found out, is how humans develop. It is “a core part of developing this human cultural mind, where we’re so motivated to do things like those around us and be like those around us,” says psychologist Mark Nielsen.
7. 3 awesome ways to be a nature hero
Become zero wasters, minimalists, vegans, or whatever conscious pursuit suits you. Take up responsibilities, talk about it in a casual way, and watch your actions entrain your child. You’ll find he’ll be more likely to ask questions he never did, think about it, and embrace it too.
My sons often talk about not eating animals and caring for the earth in our lifestyle. They embraced being vegetarians, though they may become vegans “when older”.
They are included, if they want to, every step of the way on our greener venture.
It feels good to become the change we wish to see in the world.
8. How getting back his free time and energy could magically work
Unschool, homeschool, spend less time on homework or enroll him in a school that rejects it, choose a nature-based school, or don’t force indoor afterschool activities. Get back some of his time and energy so he needs and wants to go out.
Dr. Peter Gray observed in a democratic school, where children are free to explore, that a common favorite activity, by far, is to visit the nearby park.
When we have time to connect to our inner selves it’s easier to see we need to add in nature to respond to our basic needs, like clean air, and really thrive.
9. Do you have a thriving nature-based community?
Find ways to care for nature. Richard Louv, author of Last Child In The Woods and the theory of nature-deficit disorder, suggests creating nature-based community classrooms, bringing children to nature centers, parks, and camping trips.
You can start an outdoor club in your neighborhood.
Volunteer for a conservation organization that your child picked.
Join No Child Inside movement.
Definitely spend vacations in natural settings – we went to a lake house every summer when I was young and we are taking up the habit with our family now.
Doing so, your child will be sensitized to care for nature for life.
10. How a poignant solution could change your lives
Want to take it a step further?
Take on homesteading or move to a natural housing community, where your child will innately want to live more outdoors to be part of it.
Your whole family could connect with nature as being a respectful part of the whole. And your actions could inspire others to go to the woods too, as said Henry David Thoreau:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
How to make the powerful change happen now
Pick a suggestion and go with it.
Your success is almost guaranteed if you stick to your intention, and you’ll create a life worth living for your child. Even for your descendents.
Today is a great day to start anew.
Imagine effortlessly suggesting an activity to your child, and him being thrilled, ready to head outdoors at the thought of it.
This is a stunning change, just because you were devoted and brave enough to care and implement solutions working with your child. And you’ll be forever grateful you did.
At first, your jaw drops because your child now demands to go outside. Every. Single. Day.
Next you see him transform in a wondrous, active and thriving child. Adopting healthy choices and having an appetite for learning about the world, for life.
The change is breathtaking and jubilant. You’re amazed at what his future and even the ones of your grandchildren hold – promises of freedom, health, happiness, and self-actualization.
Get this vision of triumph in your head and hold it there now.
Then do yourselves a favor, bring out your inner hero and go have a meeting with your child to have him pick his favorite suggestion from those listed.
Implement the ones that work for you until habits form and enthusiasm for the outdoors is ingrained.
Your dream future connected to nature is waiting for you both.
And us all.
— This Parenting Thing (@MarieEveWriter) June 16, 2016
Latest posts by Marie-Eve Boudreault (see all)
- Subliminal Parenting: Why it’s awesome to be a “subliminal” mom - April 9, 2019
- Being a stay-at-home mom: 4 extraordinary (and little-known) facts of stay-at-home momming - February 28, 2019
- Hitting children has to be banned. It’s violence and it should be illegal. - February 12, 2019