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New Research Explains Why Outdoor Kids Are Better-Behaved

New research suggests that spending 30 to 60 minutes outside could not only improve your child’s physical health, but lead to better behavior at home, too.

We should note that research on the effect of nature on kids’ health is not new. We’ve long known that when kids spend more time outside, they tend to have better stamina, stronger immune systems and improved mental health. That said, outdoor advocates and experts are only just now putting together the links between nature time and behavior.

These days, kindergarteners spend more than 80% of the average school day indoors, reports a recent article from National Geographic. That limited sunlight exposure can mess with kids’ circadian rhythms. That, in turn, can disrupt hunger cues and sleep cues, which can cause kids to be ornery at the dinner table or restless at bedtime. By spending more time in the sun during the day, parents can help their kids become better adjusted to daily schedules both at school and at home. According to National Geographic, sunshine time can also help counteract the negative effects of too much screen time. If the body gets enough light from the sun, it’s less sensitive to the blue light that emanates from computer and phone screens.

Image by MoMo Productions/Getty

Another study, which interviewed nearly 500 parents in Hong Kong, demonstrates that kids who feel more connected to nature tend to be less anxious and may act out less. Cambridge researchers have been able to mirror these findings in the UK: In 2021, scientists found that children who spent more time outdoors during lockdown were happier and exhibited significantly more agreeable behavior at home.

So, exactly how can you get your kid to go outdoors more? If possible, sign them up for an after-school sport that takes place outside (think soccer or cross-country instead of basketball or hockey). If you walk to the bus in the mornings, take a more circuitous route to maximize the time spent strolling. It can also be helpful to squeeze in a few extra minutes here and there. When the weather’s nice, try to eat dinner on the balcony or in the backyard, or do homework on the back patio instead of in the kitchen. When you’re assigning chores, consider weeding or dog-walking instead of vacuuming or setting the table.

If the research shows one thing, it’s that nature is valuable, even in small doses. Every little bit counts.

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