The first thing I want to talk about is this; How come kids don’t want to play outside anymore? As an adult, does it seem like when you were little, all you wanted to do was play outside? And, does it seem like, today, you send kids outside and they are bored and whiny and they don’t know what to do.
I just want to let you know that humans were not born knowing how to play. We learn how to play. Humans are born with a curiosity to explore the world and humans are born to explore the easiest route. For example, if you and your friend were to go for a walk, would you choose the path that is flat and sunny, with birds chirping or the path that is steep, windy and rainy? I think mostly all of us would choose the flat path that is easy to explore. The point is children are going to explore the easiest route!
Ipads are easy. Apps are easy. The games made for them are easy. The ipad interacts with them and they don’t even have to think. They don’t have to create. They don’t have to engage with an annoying friend or share their toys with anyone. When we have to invent the game, deal with the weather, deal with the neighbor and friends, it makes it seem like a difficult process. So, kids would choose ipads. A lot of us parents may have to kick them outside! Here’s a tip, this is what happened with my kids when we fought these battles. I decided to send them outside and only allow them to watch as much screen time as the amount of time they played outside. For example, for every one minute of playing outside, they had one minute of screen time. Or, take that a step further. During the school week, do not allow ipad time or video game time at all. If the kids are well behaved at school and at home, they can earn screen time for the weekend and, maybe some TV time here or there.
Another point, is that some parents feel that it is too dangerous for kids to be outside today. So why is that? I think a lot of it is because the news comes to us so fast and from so many places. I think the world is safer than it once was. And I think children can play outside. We have to move past those fears and not hand down our fears to our children. This is really important because when our kids see that we are fearful of something, they are going to become fearful of those same things. We lead by example, whether we realize it or not. As a young adult, I became a germ-o-phobe and OCD because of all of the information that came at me, and I had a hard time being outside. So now, I am having to retrain myself and my kids. So, here is another tip; let go of the fear and don’t let your fears trickle down to your kids. And because we do lead by example, you must immerse yourself outdoors with your kids. We all have to recognize our fears and identify them. And, whatever it takes, get outside with your kids.
Another point is that we are afraid that our children are going to get hurt when they go outside. We think it’s safer inside. We think it’s safer on the ipad. It’s true, children may get hurt when they play outside, they may break a bone, they may have to get stitches. I know that’s really scary. But aren’t the benefits of exploring the world worth a bump or a bruise? YES! We can be proactive and put mulch on our playground, helmets on our heads when we ride bikes, scooters, and skateboards. I will tell you what, they will heal! When kids fall down and get back up again, they learn a very valuable life lesson. It is easier to heal from physical scars from playing outside then it is to heal from emotional scars that are caused when you sit inside on your ipad all day long, never seeing the sunshine, and not dealing with the world.
Here’s another interesting observation; we, as parents, have created a negative feeling for the outdoors. Do you look at the weather app and say “ohh its raining” “gosh it’s really cold” “it’s too hot” “it’s so windy”? All our facial expressions and continuous discussion about the weather in a negative way feeds into the kids’ fear of going outside. Instead of that, just tell them to wear hats and scarfs when it’s cold outside. Tell them to find shade and drink water when it’s hot outside. Most of us have rain boots and umbrellas that the kids can use when they go out in the rain. Be careful of the message that you give your children because of YOUR fears. When we portray fears about the outside, it makes kids less likely to be excited to go out and explore the outdoors, right?
And one last tip; Get Creative! You have to teach your kids how to play! So, that means you have to play with them! Get creative and make the outdoors fun for them! You can do this by creating scavenger hunts, nature journals to bring along on hikes or to use in your own backyard. Remind yourself of what it was like to be a child, inquisitive about the world around you!
I hope this has been helpful. I hope it has helped to alleviate some of the stressors or some of the fears that you may have had to deal with when trying to encourage your kids to play outside. And, most importantly, I hope this can give you the encouragement to go out and play with them!
Content shared with you by Andrea (the functional med mom) and myself (Dr. Ana-Maria Temple)