5 Ways Being Outside Can Make You a Saner Parent
Spending time outside with your kids isn’t only fun—it can make a big difference in their lives. So says a slew of research studies that have found that kids who are exposed to the outdoors do better in school, are more mentally alert, and are at much less risk to develop psychiatric issues as both adolescents and adults. Of course, these issues are complicated, and studies have been known to overstate outcomes. But it doesn’t take much time outside with your kids to see how much fun they have and how it can change their personalities for the better.
The same thing can be said for parents. It’s all too easy to let the responsibilities of life and family make finding time in the outdoors difficult. But taking your kids outside isn’t only good for them—it’s good for you. You’ll find that it strengthens your relationship with your kids, lessens your stress level, and lets you enjoy the benefits of nature together. Think that sounds too good to be true? Here are five ways the outdoors can help make you a better—and saner—parent.
1. Helps You Get in Shape
Who doesn’t need to get more exercise? Unless you make it a priority, it’s the first thing that goes when you need to cut something from your schedule. But including your kids in your exercise routine is a win-win for both of you. Start when they’re young with a jogging stroller or pull-behind trailer for your bike. Most parents find that the kids love the time outside, and you’ll get a workout—an even better one than normal—pulling or pushing your kid along the way.
As they get older, switch to a tag-along bike and let them start pedaling as well. Once they’re able to contribute to the effort more, include them in outdoor outings like hiking, biking, and paddling. A two-person kayak is a great way to bring the kid along while letting them contribute as much as possible. (Expect to do most of the paddling on the way back to shore.) Spend time together on the tennis court, football field, or golf course. Throw a Frisbee around.
It may not be much of a workout for you when they’re younger, but they will be challenging you before you know it.
2. Lets You Get to Know Your Kids Better Sans Screens
Getting kids off their screens to communicate with you can be a struggle. Outdoor adventures give you screen-free time to converse with your kids in a casual environment. This isn’t a lecture or a lesson, but a fun time where the conversation flows naturally. What critters can you spot? What superpower would you choose? Where is your perfect vacation spot? Put away the phones and get to know your kids better. Ask them where they would like to go to enjoy the outdoors. Maybe try a zipline course or try a sailboat. Spending time around a campfire is something that kids always remember, as will you.
3. Gives You a Break from All the Planning
So much of our kid’s time is structured—driving to and from practices or rehearsals. Playdates are put on the calendar with definite beginning and end times. Kids need more unplanned time to let their imaginations run wild. It also helps parents realize that they don’t need to spend so much time finding activities for their kids.
Camping is an excellent example of this, as kids can fill the time with games made up on the spot. A downed tree becomes a pirate ship or rocket. Searching for animal footprints or shiny stones can occupy them for hours. Take part in the fun, but let the kids run the show.
4. Teaches Kids Independence and Finds You More Help with Chores
Protecting your children and keeping them safe is a natural instinct. But it’s also important to give them more and more responsibility as they grow. It helps them feel that they are part of the team and contributing to the family. Divvying up the chores on an outdoor adventure helps kids learn independence. Let them be responsible for their own gear, carry their own backpack, bait their own hook. They can be in charge of gathering the firewood or collecting all the canoe paddles.
As a parent, it’s often faster to do things yourself then hand things off to the kids. Try to overcome that inclination and give the kids a chance to take on new roles as they get older. Sometimes it’s hard to give these things up as a parent—but it’s better in the long run for both you and them.
5. Helps Kids Regulate Emotions (What Parent Doesn’t Love That?)
Kids love to get messy. Parents don’t always agree. But allowing kids to get messy helps them develop all of their senses and create lasting memories. Research shows that more intense sensory experiences—think finger paining, mud pies, creek walks—help children learn to regulate their emotions. Watch as a small child gradually walks into a lake and you can see the gamut of expressions as he or she adjusts to what’s going on. It works the same for other sensory-loaded experiences as well. By doing things that are outside the norm (and fun!), kids learn how to regulate their emotions in their everyday life as well. This is an important skill that parents can help develop, and there’s no better place to do it than the outdoors.
Yes, that may mean a bit more laundry, but that’s why you wear old clothes. Let the kids get dirty, get wet, and have fun. You’ll find the benefits far outweigh the temporary inconvenience. Just remember to always bring along an extra change of clothes.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with Kampgrounds of America.