The key to good mental health in children, I feel, comes down to one thing.
Simply; Get them outside.
I did a bit of research into statistics for kids being outside and was startled by the negativity behind the results. It has come to light that children spend more time indoors than prisonmates. The average time 5-15 year olds are outside is 12-16 minutes per day. This is enormously upsetting.
I feel, as a nation, we are slowly warming to the benefits of adults getting out for good mental health, as promoted by RedJanuary and Mountains for the Mind. But what about the kids? For adults to have healthy habits, they need to be healthy kids. The education needs to be there from the beginning. If we, as parents, can instill good habits in our children now, then that should surely mean they will grow into happy, healthy, grown up human beings.
Just like their elders, children have stresses and strains of their own. School, extra curricular activities, hormones, family and friends, and just general growing can be hard on little ones. Getting outside and blowing a few child sized cobwebs away with a good stroll through the countryside, is not a thought to be discarded when children are feeling grumpy and out of sorts. Spending too much time indoors can bring on anxiety. It stifles childrens creativity and natural curiosity. It’s unfair to cripple a child of its emotional needs before they get chance to express themselves.
When children are happy, parents are happy. Out in the open air, thoughts can be processed, flaws can be aired and conversation flows freely. No distractions or frustrations. As a family, we connect better while on a long hike, working as a team to climb, scramble, and look out for one another. The emotional benefits to this are amazing. We improve our communications and trust each other implicitly.
It goes without saying that exercise is key to a happy and healthy lifestyle. By going on a long walk, climbing up mountains or exploring caves, kids are embarking on a healthy habit of a lifetime. There’s not usually a battle to have either. Kids don’t realise they’re exerting themselves, or burning so many calories per hour; they don’t care either. As long as they’re not a statistic for early onset obesity due to being cooped up indoors, it can only be a good thing.
With all that disguised exercise, kids work up an appetite akin to a bodybuilder. The best thing in the world is to see a child enjoying and devouring a big meal. Picnics are also a fantastic lure to entice a moody pre-teen or stubborn toddler to the green grasses. Food always tastes better outside, I think!
In the presence of full tummies, comes good sleep. My kids will tell you, I always say the most important things a child needs, are food and sleep. A full belly equals restful sleep, a good sleep equates to a good appetite. The perfect formula for happy children. Also, too much time indoors can lead to bouts of insomnia. Blue light from screens inhibits the natural melatonin for sleep patterns. Getting off the screens and having regular time out in the fresh air can reset the body’s natural sleep and wake process. Meaning they fall asleep faster and quieter, and wake feeling great after a restful sleep.
BBC news reported that the average 5-15 year old is on a screen 6 hours a day, compared to 3 hours in 1995. I mean, I’m not a total technophobe, but, i think children should be children and that the best things in life, are usually the simplest. You know, when your baby prefers to play with the box, instead of the £100 present inside (Insert palmface emoji here) I limit screen time, in favour of the great outdoors, where the kids can express their emotion. Maybe you’ve noticed, that the longer children are inside stuck to a screen, the attitude of a dragon is released, attention span shrinks to that of a goldfish, and arguments are started over trivial needs.
There is much to learn about the world from a child’s eyes. From geography to history, biology and maths, the panoramic vista around us is one large textbook. When finding walking routes or mountains to climb, I like to look at the history of the area and all the interesting little facts that come along. We can chat about these snippets of information, teaching our children, without them even realising. This loops back to bonding as a family, and having interesting subjects to talk about. The kids ask questions, inviting us to learn along with them. I love this most of all about them being outside. Children are like sponges. Let them soak it all up.
Instagram has been a great tool for gaining inspiration, and also some new friends for the kids to go hiking with. I have created a Hikerkidz community in which a group of children can get together and form new allies in the world of adventure. For as much as they love each other, the kids can get bored in their siblings’ company. Its nice to meet some new faces who share the same interests. Hopefully, in time, these new world explorer can keep alive the spirit of the outdoors, and teach their children the ways of the world.
But ultimately, no harm will come to a child who is encouraged to run free across a large meadow, or scream at the top of their lungs from the summit of a mountain top. If anything, it will encourage them to feel more open and they can achieve anything they work for.
And that can only be a good thing….. right?
If you would like some inspiration for a few kid friendly hikes, please see my post 12 Favourite Hikes in 2018.