Nature as a Coping Skill for Kids

We all have seen the difference in more recent generations experiences growing up. Technology has soared like it never has before and grown exponentially between the last couple generations. We also have increased our confinement exceptionally in the last year, kids being in strollers or high chairs or at home cooped up all day due to the pandemic. The pandemic has also exponentially increased screen time for many children. Kids have access to the Internet and so much more information and stimulation on screens than they ever have before and they also have more access to communicate with other people than they ever had before. We cannot ignore how the addition of technology impacts a child’s development. Kids are spending less time outside or in nature at an unprecedented rate. This is the first generation that has ever seen this shift to screens. The experience you get in nature is a creative one, the sticks are people the rocks are homes and the Creek is lava. Kids imaginations are enriched by outside play. Finding nature or a natural setting can be a bit more of a challenge today but even a small patch of grass or local park can be a great way to connect with nature. It’s time to shift our perspective about nature to that of a coping skill. Something that our kids can do that specifically helps them both emotionally and physically which in turn can increase positive mental health outcomes.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv is recommended for anyone who wants to learn about the impact of nature in everyday life. This book reviews how exposure to nature is helpful and arguably essential for a child’s healthy physical and emotional development. Richard also found research that exposure to nature may reduce symptoms of ADHD. Research has shown that exposure to nature can improve children’s physical and emotional health by increasing cognitive abilities and decreasing impact of stress and depression in everyday life. Kids senses are expanded the more time they spend in nature and they are more in tune with their senses of sight smell taste and touch which increases their physiological and psychological satisfaction in life. Experiencing nature demands the full use of senses and visualization. Nature can be a great escape or coping skill for a child where they can find freedom in fantasy and privacy away from their home or parents or other adults in their life. For kids spending time in nature can have positive effects on concentration as well. Kids having physical contact with the dirt and soil has a certain effect that has been deemed as a great intervention for some mental illnesses by Michigan State University and Kansas State University.

Kids have been separated from nature for a long time due to our age of technology. Healing a child’s connection with nature by increasing the time they spend in it is a great intervention for helping kids succeed in life. Kids can gain confidence creativity and individualism through their unstructured play and we see this in play therapy in the mental health field all the time. Utilizing time in nature as a coping skill is a great way to help kids destress and cope with what may be going on at home or school. Spending time in nature can be a protective and positively impacting intervention to add into your child’s life to prioritize their mental Wellness. Encourage your kids to spend time in nature and create a habit or routine that keeps them in nature consistently. And don’t forget nature can be just as beneficial for adults too. Listed below are some ways that you and any child that may be in your life can utilize nature as a coping skill to get out there and get dirty and get creative.

Ways you can enrich your child’s life with nature:

  • Just like you play in sand at the beach you can play in dirt the same way. Grab some plastic buckets and shovels and find a place to get your hands dirty.
  • Reframe your view of nature to one of a coping skill to manage stress. The health benefits that come from being in nature can help adults too!
  • Camping in the backyard is a great way to connect with nature!
  • If you were a child before the age of technology tell your children about your special childhood stories of playing in nature whether it was with your friends or by yourself in a tree or by a Creek or on the beach. Invite your grandparents or older individuals in your life to offer their insight as well. They may remember great and different ways of interacting with nature that can give your children ideas.
  • Take a hike! It doesn’t have to be far but getting out and walking in nature is a great coping skill to decrease stress.
  • Creating a habit of having a “green hour” where there is an hour of time Of unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. This is a great way to stimulate creativity and the more kids do it the more confident they will become in the ways that they can interact with nature.
  • Go cloud watching! Keep an open mind and allow your creativity to flow.
  • Plant a garden! This is another great way to get your hands dirty.
  • If it’s hard to get your kids away from screens go digital and try wildlife photography.
  • Play I spy on a hike or walk with the nature around you by pointing out any insects, reptiles, snails, rocks, leaves, or other creatures.
  • Make a wonderful collection of treasures during your adventure. Bring some type of container with you on a walk or a hike and collect cool or interesting things you find along the way.
  • Go on a walk when there’s a full moon. There’s so many different animal sights and sounds during that time of day that we never see when the sun’s out.

If someone in your life could benefit from more outdoor activities then get out there! Experience nature and the benefits it has to give us and those around us. Coping skills like going out in nature are not always enough and sometimes you need to talk to someone. If you or your child are interested in counseling, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


Arielle Teets