I have always been an observer. This tendency doesn’t stop with people-watching. As a child, I was fortunate enough to live near a nationally-ranked well-funded zoo. For a period of time, I was certain zoology was the field for me. I remember standing gape-mouthed at my local zoo as young gorillas pulled off impressive gymnastic-quality feats and played pranks on their family members. I remember the awe and joy I felt as a mama bear and her little one did bonafide underwater handstands, purple padded feet in the air, just for the fun of it. The animals, it seemed, took genuine delight in their play. Nature is on to something. Our physical world is full of lessons.
Three Parenting Tips from Mother Nature
1. Get them moving.
Just ahead of May’s mental health awareness month, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a statement aptly titled, “To Grow Up Healthy, Children Need to Sit Less and Play More.” The title says it all really. Children are meant to move just like the vast majority of nature’s fauna. With so many sedentary activities that are full of tempting lights and binging noises, both kids and adults are struggling with inactivity, particularly the screen time takeover. It’s not good for us. And, while I certainly don’t want to discourage organized sports or scheduled workouts, natural movement is also important– movement that occurs throughout the day, not just 3 times a week for an hour.
If you see your child struggling with coordination or avoiding certain kinds of movement-based play, consider talking to an expert. They could benefit from pediatric occupational therapy. If it’s a matter of your child simply preferring the couch to the swing in the backyard, try some new strategies and make movement a family affair.
2. Throw caution to the wind.
I think back to the animals I watched in the zoo. Those gorillas and polar bears were jumping in the water, rolling in the dirt, and making a mess of things while exploring their environment. Adults swooped in to help only when it was really needed. Certainly these little ones didn’t experience their caregivers as stepping in regularly with messages of caution. No. In fact, baby animals know when their parents are serious about being careful, because they only caution when it’s really needed. Children are supposed to be messy climbing machines. That’s why your two-year-old wants to get on top of the table and doesn’t hold back in the muddle puddles.
There’s literally stuff in dirt that helps our mental and physical health. I’m not making that up. And the kind of movement that children engage in in nature– climbing trees, digging in the creek bed, splashing through the rain– those kinds of things support coordination and a sense of confidence that comes with mastery. We’ve got to get out of the way. I’m not saying there should be no rules. Surely it can be ok to let them get dirty and to let them try new physical feats from time to time though. Intervene when it’s needed, just like mama gorilla, and catch yourself the next time you say “Be careful” to your child. Was it really necessary?
3. Be one with nature.
Well, of course, Mother Nature encourages this one. Nature in and of itself is both predictable and changing, mundane and awe-inspiring. Being a quiet observer can certainly teach a child a lot about mindfulness and about how the bigger world works. Watching those gorillas all those years ago, I learned about family hierarchies and what unfiltered joy looks like. Watching the polar bears, I saw authentic mother’s love. In the trail of ants in my backyard, my children see perseverance and structure. In the quail families hiding in the weeds, they see loyalty and protectiveness. It turns out that nature is good for our mental health. Forest bathing, that is surrounding ourselves with trees leads us to be happier and healthier. Even just looking at pictures of trees (with or without leaves) leads to improved outcomes. Get your children outside! Perhaps you’ll notice an immediate improvement in their mood.
At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.