Many of you might have come across the news that this week was the Children’s Mental Health Week (https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/) and several initiatives have taken place across the country to raise awareness about it.
Mental health is a topic that touches all of us, directly or indirectly, at some point in our lives but being a mum makes the thought of children suffering from any mental health issues really hard to come to terms with. Childhood should be a happy time of freedom, curiosity and opportunities to test boundaries. However, looking at the stats, it seems like this is no longer the case.
It is estimated that one in eight 5 to 19-year olds has been diagnosed with mental health issues (Office of National Statistics 2017, Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain). Emotional disorders were the most prevalent type of disorder experienced by 5 to 19 year olds in 2017.
I could make a lot of assumptions and suggestions about the root cause of this depressing statistic but I am neither a psychologist nor a healthcare professional. I am a mum and an observer of children’s behaviour. Compared to my generation (an 80-90s kid), most children today spend a lot less time outdoors that what we did (oh dear, I am starting to sound like my mum…). I genuinely think that the connection to the natural world is something that kids need instinctively and wonder what the impact of less outdoor time has on today’s children. So my question is: can gardening improve the mental health of children in the same way it does for adults?
In terms of a purely observational ‘mummy’ point of view I definitely think so.
- Although gardening with children might not always be relaxing and stress free for the adults, I think that children find outdoor spaces relaxing and stress reducing by giving them an opportunity to let off steam and use up energy.
- When a child manages to grow something from seed and maybe even gets to taste the fruit of his/her labour, I am sure that they feel a huge sense of achievement and pride. I will not forget my little daughter’s face when she dug up her first potatoes, she was super proud and spent the following days telling people about the experience. I also believe that gardening gives children more visual and practical ways to learn about subjects such as maths and science. Again this could lead to a boost in confidence in those children that might be struggling with traditional teaching methods.
- Gardening is not always successful and learning to accept failure and move on a is great way for children to become more resilient. When something doesn’t grow or dies, it is hard (even for grown ups) to make peace with the situation and start again. As adults helping children in their discovery journey we need to support them in not getting demoralised if things don’t go their way. Similarly we also need to learn to allow children to make mistakes and experiment in the garden even if it means that we will not necessarily have the most impressive garden in town.
- We live in a society where instant gratification is the norm so moving from that to a more slow reward is difficult. Growing plants can teach children patience without removing the excitement of looking forward to seeing a result or reward. Whenever I plant anything with the girls, they often forget about it after a few days so I keep on checking and when something happens I make sure to tell them. The excitement about a seed sprouting is off the scale even when they had not been thinking about that seed since they planted it a few weeks back.
- Gardening time is often a great time to talk and talking is a very important component of our mental health. When I manage to get my eldest out with me weeding, I try to kneel next to her and we talk a lot about life, school and friends. I find it a great time for sharing but unfortunately it does not last very long as the interest in weeding is limited!
What do you think? It would be great to hear about your experiences of gardening with children and how it has affected their mental wellbeing.