Intuitively, we all know that getting outside is important for our kids. It wears them out, they tend to sleep better at night, and they’re usually happier.
Did you know that scientific research supports our intuition? Studies show that being in nature, or having views of water or green spaces, positively effects our health and well-being.
But what about the effects of nature on specific issues, like ADHD? Can nature experiences or views of green spaces help my child be more focused, less impulsive, and influence their social behaviors in a positive way?
According to one study, nature can.
The researchers measured ADHD associated behaviors based on questionnaires filled out by children’s parents and teachers. Then they compared those behaviors to the time kids spent playing outside and how much “greenness” surrounded their homes.
Based on these comparisons, they found significant relationships between more play time outdoors, surrounding greenness, and less sever ADHD symptoms. This means that being around nature and playing in nature can help reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.
These results weren’t significant across the board (as you’ll see below in the research section), but the trends tell us that nature can be used as a supplemental treatment for ADHD in addition to the recommendations of your pediatrician or therapist.
People have suggested that physical activity, which is a natural result of being outside, is one of the reasons parents and teachers see fewer ADHD symptoms in affected children who spend a lot of time outdoors. Research suggests the same, but in addition to physical activity, nature has been found to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, while also increasing self-discipline and pro-social behaviors. All these benefits can have positive effects on ADHD symptoms. Talk with your pediatrician about adding more nature activities into your child’s weekly routine.
When you’re getting outside with your child, you’re providing them with so much more than simply a way to expend excess energy!
Are you intrigued about getting your kid outdoors more but not sure where to start? Try these 5 Nature Treatments for Kids with ADHD.
Do you need help planning outdoor activities for your child who suffers from inattentiveness, impulsivity, or hyperactivity? Click here to get my Planning Workbook. It will help you set up a consistent schedule for outdoor activities and track your child’s progress as you explore an alternative treatment.
Follow me on Facebook to keep up with the research as we explore this topic together. This is a great place for asking questions for finding support!
Everyday Takeaways from Science
- According to parents, outdoor play and more “greenness” around a child’s home decreases behaviors regularly associated with ADHD
- For children who spent more time playing outdoors, parents reported less hyperactivity/inattention, more positive emotions, and better peer relationships.
- For children who had more greenness around their homes, parents reported less hyperactivity/inattention, more positive emotions, better peer relationships, fewer conduct problems, and more prosocial behaviors.
- According to teacher observations, children who had “greenness” within 100 meters of their home had fewer ADHD symptoms, specifically, these children were more attentive.
- Teachers reported fewer ADHD symptoms for children who spent more time playing outdoors but those results were not statistically significant.
Your Ray of Sunshine
We are intimately connected to nature, so it’s no surprise that nature can be used as a tool to help us with many of life’s issues. Try these 5 Nature Treatments to help decrease ADHD behaviors in your child!
The goal of this study was to investigate the relationship between green and blue (beach) spaces with ADHD behaviors. The researchers analyzed data from 2,111 schoolchildren (ages 7-10) in Barcelona, Spain. They measured the children’s behaviors by using two different questionnaires filled out by two different adults (parents and teachers). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was completed by the children’s parents and measured emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems, and prosocial behaviors. The ADHD Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-4) was completed by the children’s teachers and measured inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.
The researchers also measured each child’s exposure to green and blue spaces. For green spaces, they measured time spent playing outdoors (based on parent questionnaires), the level of greenness around the child’s home (derived from satellite date), and how close they lived to a large green space (derived from map/GIS data). For blue spaces, they focused on time spent at the beach (parent data) and how close the child lived to the beach (map data). The researchers calculated a “green outdoor play” score for by calculated the average amount of time each child spend playing in green spaces each year. They calculated the average number of days spent at the beach for an annual “blue outdoor play” score. All analyses were adjusted for gender, school grade, ethnicity, preterm birth, breastfeeding, exposure to tobacco during pregnancy, parental educational achievement, parental employment status, parental marital status, and socio-economic status.
- The median green space playing time was 480 hours per year, which is about 9 hours per week or about an hour and a half each day. This is NOT the average. This represents the amount of time spent outdoors by the middle child in the data set of 2,111 children. (Using the median instead of the average helps control for extreme numbers in the dataset; and although it’s useful, it can be very confusing to use in practical situations.)
- Living closer to a major green space did not increase children’s overall time playing outdoors.
Results from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (completed by parents)
- More outdoor play time was significantly associated with a lower SDQ score (specifically, less hyperactivity/inattention, positive emotions, and better peer relationships).
- Higher levels of surrounding greenness were significantly associated with lower SDQ scores as well (specifically, less hyperactivity/inattention, positive emotions, better peer relationships, fewer conduct problems, and more prosocial behaviors – although significance for each of these varied according to distance of greenness).
- SDQ scores were not significantly related to proximity to a major green space.
Results from the ADHD Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders questionnaire (completed by teachers)
- Although reported values for hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention were lower for children who spent more time playing outdoors, the results were not significant.
- Reported values for hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention were lower for children with higher levels of close (100m) surrounding greenness, but only total SMD-4 scores and inattention were significant. This suggests that surrounding greenness in the population had a more significant effect on inattention than on hyperactivity.
- ADHD-SMD scores were not significantly related to proximity to a major green space.
More research is needed, but time spent in nature as well as surrounding greenness can influence symptoms associated with ADHD in children.
I want to point out that the research associated with ADHD symptoms and children’s exposure to green and blue spaces is still in it’s infancy. The instruments they use to measure behavior in children are being further validated with each new research project, but aren’t considered “tried and true” methods of evaluation. At least not yet. There is evidence to suggest that these instruments are useful tools when measuring behavior and researchers are moving in the right direction by testing the reliability and validity of the instruments in different populations.
Thanks for reading,
Amoly, E., Dadvand, P., Lopez-vicente, M., Basagana, V., Julvez, J., Alvarez-Pedrerol, M., Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J., Sunyer, J. (2014). Green and blue spaces and behavioral development in Barcelona schoolchildren: the BREATHE Project. Environmental Health Perspectives. 122(12):1351-1358.
These alternative treatments are not to be used as a reason to get your kids off their medicine, take unnecessary risks, or stop seeing their doctor. This is NOT a prescription and I am not that kind of doctor. Always talk with your child’s pediatrician. They’ll likely be fully on board with increased outdoor play unless your child has a preexisting health condition (like severe asthma) making it a dangerous risk to increase outdoor time. DO NOT take unnecessary risks with your child. If your child cannot go outside regularly, perhaps I could help you develop a plan that involves nature window viewing and fun indoor nature activities.