“Thanks for making me go outside, Mom”

Yesterday, my two sons returned home from their days’ activities to a few hours of free play before dinner. Afternoons at our house can be great times to just relax, with the boys doing their own free play or playing together, but they can sometimes (OK, often) turn problematic. You know how it goes: Little Brother wants attention, Big Brother ignores him, Little Brother becomes increasingly annoying until Big Brother can’t take it anymore and explodes, Little Brother gets verbally and/or physically attacked and cries loudly, parents are forced to stop whatever house cleaning or food prep in which they were engaged and break up a fight. Possibly the parents in this scenario could act sooner and give the younger child attention so he wouldn’t have to bother his brother, but this assumes the parents are independently wealthy and can hire maids and cooks and gardeners…so, in other words, this is not always possible in my real world.

So yesterday, I heard a fight brewing, and I cautioned the boys that if they couldn’t work it out, I was going to send them outside. They didn’t want to go outside, they whined, and I said, “Fine, no problem—it’s your choice. Figure out a way to get along and you can stay where you are.”

Less than two minutes later, Big Brother’s voice raised again in frustration, lashing out at his brother. (His younger brother had left the room, but continued to play a drum loudly while Big Brother attempted to hear an audio book.) He had a legitimate concern, but was unable to see beyond his own wants in order to work out a solution that would be fair to both of them, or come seek my help in the matter.

“Outside,” I directed. After much whining and yelling and cajoling on the part of my eldest, I succeeded in convincing him to go outside. “Going outside helps people calm down,” I offered as my reason. (If he’d asked me to back up this statement with evidence, I would have started him with the list of resources below.)

In fact, all three of us went outside to a lovely spring day. I got a bit of weeding done, my older son took out his frustration by throwing and hitting a ball at the garage door for a while (some call this “wall ball”; I call it “hitting something other than your brother”), and my younger son wandered around singing little songs to himself, chatting with me and with his brother in turn, and exploring.

About half an hour later, my older son hollered from the other side of the yard, “Mom?”

“Yes?” I answered.

“Thanks for sending me outside!”

I might have said the same.

References:

Keffer, Ken. “Kids and the Outdoors: It’s Natural.” Parks & Recreation 50:1 (January 2015): 32–33.
Lewis, Terence Grant Jr. “Youth and Nature: Assessing the Impact of an Integrated Wellness Curriculum on Nature Based Play and Nature Appreciation for Youth in out-of-School Time Recreation Programming.” ProQuest Information & Learning, 2009. (2009-99230-008).
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Updated and Expanded edition. Chapel Hill, N.C: Algonquin Books, 2008.
McClain, Cara, and Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler. “Social Contexts of Development in Natural Outdoor Environments: Children’s Motor Activities, Personal Challenges and Peer Interactions at the River and the Creek.” Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning 16:1 (January 2016): 31–48.
Nedovic, Sonya, and Anne-Marie Morrissey. “Calm Active and Focused: Children’s Responses to an Organic Outdoor Learning Environment.” Learning Environments Research 16:2 (July 2013): 281–95.
Schoffman, Danielle E., Andrew T. Kaczynski, Melinda Forthofer, Sara Wilcox, Brent Hutto, Stephanie T. Child, and S. Morgan Hughey. “Longitudinal Associations with Changes in Outdoor Recreation Area Use for Physical Activity during a Community-Based Intervention.” Preventive Medicine: An International Journal Devoted to Practice and Theory 78 (September 2015): 29–32.
Tulipane, Barbara. “Healthy Play Outdoors Means Healthy Kids.” Parks & Recreation 49:11 (November 2014): 8–8.
Weinstein, Netta, Andrew K. Przybylski, and Richard M. Ryan. “Can Nature Make Us More Caring? Effects of Immersion in Nature on Intrinsic Aspirations and Generosity.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35:10 (October 2009): 1315–29.
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