Exploring nature to find our calm

Children playing in woods

This week, we received a secondary diagnosis for my son. It’s been a very hot week. It’s the end of the school year. He’s going through a growth spurt. Is everyone getting enough sleep? I think there’s too much sugar in our diets. We should probably cut back on screentime. Physical play is always good. We should practice reading and….WRITING! I forgot about writing! I should give him practice navigating the politics of the playground. I should have more jobs around the house. Create independence. Create confidence. Create relationships. Create happiness. Should. Create. More.

Let’s go to the woods

When my kids and I are getting on each other’s nerves, we often need to get out of the house. I learned early on that as painful as it might feel at that moment to coordinate children and their gear, go outside! Get to a park! Pile in the wagon and sit on a bench at the closest construction site. Sometimes it is just the change of scene that everyone needs, but there is certainly something special about getting out in nature that we all crave.

Reason 1: Reflect and be calm

Researchers, such as the biologist E.O. Wilson (1984), theorize that humans are innately drawn to the natural world and living things. I see it in my children’s bodies and the way in which they embrace the open space and interact with one another. I feel it in myself and the perspective and clarity it often brings.

Engaging with the natural world stimulates our senses and gives us all a unique opportunity to slow down and reflect. One son may closely follow the trail of an ant he’s found. Another is very interested in the best way to climb a tree. Another notices every detail about a dog that is desperately trying to eat our food. I’m reflecting on the joy I feel in this moment with my family. I feel calm myself. We feel calm together.

Reason 2: Time to become more emotionally regulated

Granted, it’s still hot. They’re still tired. My ‘to do’ list is still not complete. There are still tantrums and negotiations, but I feel more emotionally regulated and I see my boys are more regulated, too. In other words, we are all a bit better prepared to deal with the tantrums; to recover from stress and to move forward together.

The boys problem-solve with each other about how best to roll down a hill without running over one another. They want to share the joy in treasures they’ve found (even if they don’t want to share the actual treasure!). They feel the grass on their feet, they watch the water, and they lead us through the path to find the ‘right’ rock to eat our sandwiches.

Being in nature gives us the time and space we need as individuals living together as a family. Emotional regulation for one of my sons means that he can engage in a conversation about a topic he’s been curious about but found it difficult to discuss. Emotional regulation for another son means that he can recover from a fall with some comforting from Mom.

And for me, feeling more emotionally regulated means that I can have more empathy for my son when he throws himself on the ground. Reconnecting with my son, we stand back up together. I can slow down and begin to process a new diagnosis.

Tips on how to find your calm in nature

When you find yourself having ‘one of those days’, if you are able to let go for any amount of time, go outside. Here are two things to keep in mind as you go:

Keep it simple

Whether you are driving to a river, heading to the forest, walking down your driveway, or exploring the cracks in an empty parking lot, nature is everywhere. Plan what you need to plan to make the outing a success, but give yourself a break and don’t over-schedule it.

Let yourselves wander and wonder

Notice things together. Walk slowly. Experience what is coming in through all of your senses. Wonder aloud with your kids to help them notice, too. Notice what they are bringing to you.

I hope you find joy in these moments with your children and with yourself, and I hope they allow you to make the room to soak in all you need to move forward as a family.