The connection with nature during a pandemic is related to the well-being of children

Children from less affluent backgrounds are likely to find blocking COVID-19 a greater challenge to their mental health because they had a lower connection to nature than their wealthier peers, a new study shows.

A study found that children who increased their relationship with nature during the first blockade of COVID-19 were more likely to have lower levels of behavioral and emotional problems than those whose relationship with nature remained the same or decreased. -respective of their socio-economic condition.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the University of Sussex, also found that children from wealthy families tended to increase their connection to nature during the pandemic more than their less affluent peers.

Nearly two-thirds of parents report a change in their child’s relationship with nature during locking, while one-third of children whose relationship with nature declines show increased well-being problems – either through “behavior” or through increased sadness or anxiety. .

The results strengthen the protection of nature as a cheap method of supporting children’s mental health and suggest that more efforts should be made to support children in contact with nature – both at home and at school.

Researchers’ suggestions for achieving this include: reducing the number of structured extracurricular activities for children to allow more time outside, providing school gardening projects and funding schools, especially in disadvantaged areas, to implement of nature-based learning programs.

The study, published today in the journal People and nature, also offers important guidance on potential future constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We know that access and commitment to nature are associated with far-reaching benefits for children and adults, including reducing levels of anxiety and depression and reducing stress. “

Samantha Friedman, first author of the study, researcher, Center for Family Studies, University of Cambridge

She added: “The closure of COVID-19 meant that children no longer had their normal school activities, routines and social interactions. Removing these barriers has given us a new context to look at how changes in nature affect mental health.

“The connection to nature may have helped protect some UK children from the effects of the blockade, but we found that children from less affluent families were less likely to increase their connection to nature during this time.”

The increased connection with nature is reflected in reports of children spending time gardening, playing in the garden or doing physical activities outdoors. This is usually associated with having more time for these activities during the block. Conversely, according to the parents, the reduced connection with nature is explained by the impossibility of access to some natural spaces due to the travel restrictions that existed at that time.

“Connecting with nature can be an effective way to support children’s well-being, especially as children return to normal routines, such as school and extracurricular activities,” said Dr. Elian Fink, a psychology professor at the University of Sussex. also participated in a study.

She added: “Our findings could be useful in redesigning blocking rules if the UK is to return to these conditions in the future, and in particular for countries whose restrictions on blocking do not allow children to access at all. to nature.

“Extending the time that children have access to nature, or extending the distance that children can travel to have access to nature, could have a beneficial effect on their mental health.”

The survey used an online survey to collect responses from 376 families in the UK with children between the ages of three and seven, between April and July 2020. More than half of these families reported that their child’s relationship with nature increased during of the first COVID-19 closure. Other parents, whose children’s relationship with nature decreases or remains the same during this period, also report that their children experience greater well-being problems.

A widely used gold standard questionnaire was used as a measure of each child’s mental health – an assessment of emotional issues such as unhappiness, anxiety, worry and depression; and behavioral problems such as anger and hyperactivity.

“Mental health problems can manifest in different ways in different children. We’ve found that a greater connection to nature is associated with a reduction in both emotional and behavioral problems,” Fink said.

She added: “In fact, the contrasting experience of access to nature between different socio-economic groups may be even brighter than our survey found, as the respondents in our online survey were largely taken from wealthier social groups. “

Parents with children between the ages of three and seven responded to the study by referring to one specific child. Researchers have focused on this age group, as they are likely to experience many disruptions due to the pandemic, and also have less understanding of what is happening.

“Our study revealed a wide range of ways parents can help children connect better with nature. This may be a little daunting for some, but you don’t have to camp in the woods and look for food – you can to be as simple as going for a walk near your house or sitting outside for ten minutes a day, ”Friedman said.


Reference in the magazine:

Friedman, S., and others. Understanding the changes in children’s relationship with nature during the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications for children’s well-being. People and nature.

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