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Angela Krueger, Whitehorse, Yukon
Angela Krueger lives in the Yukon with her family where she writes and talks about the importance of adult and child relationships. She also spends a lot of time outside with her family…even at -30 degrees Celsius. When they lived “in the south”, Angela was a parenting education facilitator with KW Counselling Services’ Parenting with Passion program.
We’ve all been there – it’s late afternoon, dinner needs to be made, the kids are crawling up the walls and everyone is on everyone else’s nerves. That’s when we realize that we (parents and kids) haven’t been outside all day. We are starting to feel cooped up.
Our natural reaction is to send the kids out to run off some energy. With them outside, we can get dinner made in peace. That’s what we need in that moment, right? Peace and quiet. Well, this might work in the short term, but what is the best scenario for overall family wellness? For family connections?
In our household, we know that we ALL need to spend time outside EVERYDAY.
It sounds simple, but in reality, there are so many things on our to-do list that we tend to see outside time as only benefitting our kids. For parents, it’s often a ‘nice to get to’ item on our list, but not a priority. We might be able to squeeze in a quick walk around the block as the kids are getting ready for bed. It’s a nice break, but if this is the only way we enjoy the outdoors we are missing a wonderful and easy way of nurturing our relationship with our kids. Let’s get outside and play is a common expression in our home.
Being Outside Builds Family Connection
Ever feel a sense of full-hearted contentment after a family day at the beach? We feel laid back, happy and ready to engage with the kids in fun ways, just for the joy of it. The kids notice the difference, too. They don’t want the day to end and ask for another outing very soon.
What makes these moments so special and so memorable? It’s because we connect with each other through play and through nature. We are in the moment without expectations, allowing positive feelings to flow between parent and child. Imagine if we could sustain these feelings every day!
The good news is that we can – we just need to be intentional about getting outside every day. Here is what we do in our family:
We view outside time as family time: Kids will be more willing to go outside if parents enjoy the time as well. This also allows for some positive role-modeling. For example, if your little one refuses to put on a hat during the cold months, chances are they will be more flexible if they see you heading out into the snow, wearing one, too. Parent and child are both better prepared for the weather and can last longer in the elements, creating space for a good time.
We go to the park…and leave our phones behind: How many times have you set out to the park after dinner only to end up meeting other neighbourhood families there, with kids on the swings and parents chatting on the bench? We have, many times. It is certainly fun to visit, but if the goal of going to the park is to play together as a family, doesn’t this defeat the purpose? Also, we know that when we are using our phones or even taking pictures of the kids, we are only observers of the play—we are not part of it. We are outdoors, for sure, but we are not connecting.
We go for walks: Especially for older kids, playing at the park with a parent is not likely an option, but going for a walk before bed might be. There is something safe about walking around the block at night that allows for shoulder-to-shoulder conversation. By using nature as a backdrop for difficult conversations, we notice that we are more present and better able to listen, creating a non-judgmental space for our tweens and teens to share what’s on their minds and in their hearts.
We have adventures: For our family, the best bonding opportunities happen while we are on a hike, canoe trip, bike excursion, ski outing or camping adventure. While much has to do with the lack of electronic distractions, the presence of nature also makes it easier for us to connect with one another.
Several research studies demonstrate that when people spend time outside they tend to be less stressed. Parks Canada has produced a great document that summarizes this research and highlights the power of nature to improve wellbeing and family connections. They conclude that Vitamin N (nature!) is good for Canadians. Go to Connecting Canadians, to read the article.
We know that when we feel less stress, we have a better time with our kids, we are more in tune with the relationship, and our kids feel less stressed, too. Sprinkle on a healthy dose of Vitamin N and that’s a recipe for family wellness!
So the next time it feels like the walls are closing in on you at the end of the day, try turning off the stove, putting on your shoes (or boots or flip-flops), go outside and try shooting some hoops or tossing some snowballs with the kids. Then notice how the mood of the house changes when you come in, 15 minutes later to make dinner. Chances are everyone will come to the dinner table with rosy cheeks and smiling faces, feeling good about sharing time together….and ready to have a great family conversation while you eat.
What do you and your family do for outdoor fun? We would love to hear about what your family outdoor activities are. Leave a comment on this article or go to our Chat Space and start a conversation.