How to Reduce Stress and Nurture Brain

My own childhood experiences inspired me to provide ample outside activities for my family. As a therapist, I would use outside play as much as possible, inviting families to meet me at the playground modeling to parents this type of play. Often, a parent would think their child was incapable of navigating the swings or slide, only to discover an enthusiastic and capable child. Often, it was the parent who was holding back out of a sense of protectiveness. Once the parent could see how able the child was, they were more eager and open to more vigorous outside play.

These lovely nature and social experiences for children are priceless. But for many, they may not be available. The concern over violence has changed the way we live, and we are not as carefree as we once were. I wouldn’t let my grammar school child walk unattended through a wooded area nowadays. However, we can certainly try to duplicate these outside nature experiences. Many parents do carefully plan outside time. Unfortunately, for many children, there is a lack of outside experiences. Yet, it is so important to have these sensory nature experiences, such as hiking, sledding, tubing and nature events, or a walk to school.

But for many children, it is more common to go from watching a screen to the bus, to watch another screen possibly, to the class where there are also computers and then back home to a screen. It has now been noted that children are spending up to seven hours a day on screens, according to a new Kaiser Foundation study. The children in that study also appear to have lower grades in school.

I can remember an interaction with a well-meaning parent. She wanted to know if I thought she should allow her five-year-old to play outside immediately upon returning from school. The mother was concerned the child should finish her homework first. I explained the positive sensory impact of being outside in nature. After a stressful day at school, outside play for a five-year-old is healing for the brain. Children perform better with a physical break after school.

For many children, nature experiences aren’t part of the fabric of living. For those children fortunate enough to spend time outside, parents often over schedule activities. The result is that children have less and less down time or unstructured play. There isn’t enough of an outlet for our children’s stress in everyday living. When outside time, gym, recess or afterschool activities, are eliminated we are left with fewer options to neutralize the effects of all those screens.

My concern for children’s dwindling nature opportunities led me to explore how yoga and mindfulness might help reverse this. We can bring back nature and somatic experiences instead of spinning off-course with the stress of living daily. The activities in this book can be done at home, in classrooms and clinics.