Nearby Nature Decreases Stress Levels of Children

Life is stressful.

We live in a fast-paced world with constant change. Constant stress.

But there are little things we can do to buffer life’s stressful events and these small actions are especially effective for children.

Simply add a little NATURE to your life.

Research shows that children who are exposed to “nearby nature” are less stressed-out and have higher feelings of self-worth. Nature can even make us nicer!

So what is nearby nature and how do we encourage it? It’s really quite simple.

If you’re a parent, plant a  garden outside a window. Try to focus on windows that you and your children can easily access every day. Or, take your kids to the store and have them pick out a houseplant to care for. Keep the plants in a room where you spend most of your time as a family. The key is to make sure the garden or houseplants are easy for your children to see throughout the day.

As a teacher, you can add plants to your reading nook or reflection corner. If you lack windows in your classroom and are unsure what to grow, check out The Ultimate Guide to Office Plants for some help.

Do you have a great idea for adding nature into your home or classroom? Please join the conversation by commenting below or on my facebook page.

 

Everyday Takeaways from Science

  1. If you are a teacher working with kids from stressful homes, create a small indoor green space where your students can relax and recenter.
  2. Is your child experiencing a stressful life event? Go to the store and have them pick out a small potted plant to call their own.
  3. As a family, plan out a small vegetable garden with food that your family will enjoy eating. You can do this outside or inside!

Your Ray of Sunshine

Our everyday actions matter! We don’t have to live next to a forest to expose our children to nature. We can plant a vegetable garden or care for houseplants with our kids. As parents (or educators) we can help our children be more resilient by adding a little nature and a little nurture into their everyday lives.

 

The Research

The researchers studied a sample of mostly white, rural, middle-class children who were approximately 9 years old. Their goals were to identify levels of psychological distress and self-worth of children while comparing those levels to exposure to nearby nature and stressful life events. Examples of stressful life events were peer pressure, school bullies, the family moving, etc. The researchers controlled for income.

First, the researchers studied psychological distress of the children (as measured by the parents). Their results showed that children who were exposed to nearby nature were less psychologically distressed. They also found that nearby nature buffered stressful life events for these children. In other words, children who had high exposure to nature were less likely to psychologically suffer from stressful life situations, like their family moving.

Second, the researchers studied the children’s feelings of self-worth (as measured by the child). Their statistics showed that children who were exposed to nearby nature had higher feelings of self-worth. They also found that nearby nature buffered feelings of self-worth for these children. This means that children who had high exposure to nature were less likely to suffer negative self-worth from stressful life situations.

An important thing to note here: “nearby nature” did not consist of wild spaces near the house. It consisted of the number of plants in the house, the make-up of the children’s yard, and the view of nature from a window. Although most families may not be able to control (or afford) living next to BLM or open space, they can certainly introduce plants into the house. And most middle-class Americans have some control over their yards. In other words, grow a flower or vegetable garden next to a window! Let your kids play in the dirt and make castles. Every little bit of nature counts!

One last thing to note, the results showed that nature had a larger effect on more stressful life situations. Although this sample represents “white picket fence” America, it suggests that the effect of nature would be even greater among our most vulnerable children.

 

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jenny

 

Reference

Wells, N.M., Evans, G.W. (2003). Nearby nature: a buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior. 35(3):311-330.

Thank you for your contribution and important scholarly work, Nancy and Gary!

 

*Disclaimer*

Please be mindful that this is a single study. The generalizations I make from the study’s results are to be used as guidelines. I am conveying the science behind the benefits of nature in a way that you can use in your everyday life. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to life’s problems. These suggestions should be taken in light of good judgment and your ability to critically think.  Adding a potted plant to your workspace isn’t going to miraculously make you a more pleasant person, but it might be one small step toward that goal. Change is a process that takes discipline, courage, and commitment. Take your first step towards a healthier and more positive life today! Add a little nature to your life!

 

 

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