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Outdoor Safety Tips for Kids

outdoor safety tips for kids


Outdoor time for kids is an essential part of their development. Unfortunately, the average amount of unstructured outdoor playtime for most children has been four to seven minutes per day, pre-pandemic. Coronavirus lockdowns have made matters worse, forcing even the most active kids to stay indoors.

As a parent, guardian or childcare provider, you may have noticed that the abrupt change to children’s daily habits has made it challenging to curb device overload. In most cases, the best way to conquer hyper-reliance on screens and beat the indoor blues is by putting devices away and getting back outside.

It’s the perfect time to encourage kids to explore the outdoors. The weather is warming up, and COVID-19 restrictions are lifting. However, some kids (and adults) may be struggling with whether it’s safe to play outside again. There are plenty of reasons families need to step out of their comfort zones to reconnect with sunshine, sand, soil, and friends. With a bit of planning, the benefits for your child’s overall well-being and development far outweigh the drawbacks.

Children’s Mental Health and Playing Outdoors

Global studies on the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown found that children and young adults have exhibited pandemic-related stress in a few ways:

  • Kids of all ages showed “increased irritability, inattention and clinging behavior.”
  • Children 3 to 6 years old more commonly manifested “symptoms of clinginess and the fear of family members being infected.”
  • Children and young adults 6 to 18 years old displayed “inattention and were persistently inquiring regarding COVID-19.”
  • High school and college students were generally anxious, especially about academics and exam cancellations.

Underprivileged kids and those with special needs may be suffering (and acting out) the most. Underprivileged children may not have the same level of parental support or access to proper nutrition and a safe environment at home. Children with special needs may be regressing to past difficult behaviors due to their limited coping skills and the interruption to their sacred, daily routines.

According to Kait Towner, LMHC, RPT, CCPT, IMH-E, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Play Therapist, “Children that stay inside more frequently, particularly those diagnosed with ADHD, have pent-up energy. This unreleased energy can lead to the child experiencing emotional dysregulation on a consistent basis. Exerting energy by having your child play outside is an easy way to combat this emotional dysregulation, leading to a happier child and happier home.”

Outdoor Activities Reduce Stress, Improve Mood and Overall Well-Being

The studies found that stress buildup in kids eventually leads to insomnia, irritability and appetite change. A great relief for the levels of unreleased stress is outdoor time.

The initial transition to more outdoor activities can be challenging. After all, kids have been indoors for a year or longer, connected to their screens more than ever. Towner explains, “Children that stay inside and engage in screens are more likely to be increasingly irritable, have an addictive relationship with their screens/devices, and have increased difficulties transitioning to different tasks.”

According to Towner, persistence is key. “Children who have caregivers that set firm limits and boundaries in regards to screen time are more likely to be more emotionally regulated, have a healthy relationship with screens, and an overall easier time transitioning.” The warmer weather is the perfect time to limit indoor screen time and gently nudge your kids to venture outside.

The role of nature in well-being

Time outside may be beneficial in general, but not all outdoors are created the same. Although much of the world’s population lives in urban areas, humans are hardwired for nature specifically. Even the most disconnected individual will typically start getting comfortable outdoors and learn to appreciate the peace and beauty of nature.

However, a love of the outdoors that leads to healthier, happier kids often starts with the parents. Dr. Jessica Myszak, a child psychologist and the director of The Help and Healing Center, says, “More than anything else, parents can help children embrace the outdoors and opportunities to socialize safely by modeling these behaviors themselves.” You’re probably familiar with the old saying, “Do as I say and not as I do,” but it doesn’t work with kids in today’s day and age.

Dr. Myszak adds, “Screen time has been more prevalent in all of our lives, and as parents’ work and home lives have blurred, being able to turn off the computer, silence the phone, and engage in play and fun activities will speak volumes. Showing children that you are willing to do it will be much more effective than anything you would say to them.”

The inertia aspect of getting kids outside after such a long time of lockdown is initially challenging. Like a heavy stone, getting it to budge at first requires the most energy, but once it’s rolling, far less effort is needed. Keep persistent — time in nature and increased outdoor playtime have many benefits, including:

benefits of outdoor play

Preparing for Potential Outdoor Risks

Kids can be exposed to dangers outside, but with some awareness and preparation beforehand, allowing kids to have free time outside can be a safe experience. Some risks parents should prepare kids of all ages for are:

  • Roads and highways: Even very young children can learn about the dangers of cars and road rules. Children should avoid playing on or near busy streets and stay away from areas with heavy traffic.
  • COVID-19: Most kids understand the need for properly wearing a face mask, social distancing and washing hands often. Ensure kids are properly equipped before they go out by having masks and small bottles of hand sanitizer accessible.
  • Stranger danger: Children should avoid contact with adults they don’t know and who may engage them. Kids should remain in groups with friends for their safety and have someone they know and trust accompany them home.
  • Falls and injuries: Bumps and bruises happen. An adult should always supervise younger kids at play in case help is needed.
  • Protection from the elements: Children need to exercise caution from some of the things that they may be drawn to most, such as animals, bodies of water (pools, lakes and rivers) and a hot sunny day. Animals could scratch, bite or cause allergies. Playing around water unsupervised can lead to drowning. And too much time outside on a hot, sunny day could lead to dehydration and sunburn.
  • Playground hazards: Playground equipment occasionally breaks and may not be safe for use. It’s a good idea to perform a quick visual inspection before letting your kids use the equipment.

How to Limit Risk Without Limiting Outdoor Play

The biggest challenge in keeping kids safe outdoors is not limiting free play. Kids need some freedom — finding the right balance takes effort. Some ideas to reduce risk without reducing the fun are:

  • Start small: A family bike ride, a nature hike with your child or climbing a tree are fun and socially distant ways to be outside. Slowly transitioning your child to being outside safely may be a better idea than thrusting them into a busy playground.
  • Create a safe place to play: Ensure the opportunities you provide for outdoor time are in a safe, controlled environment, such as a backyard or kid’s park.
  • Educate your child: Kids aren’t born street smart. They need to learn the skills. As a parent, you can teach your kids the safety ropes that keep them secure regardless of whether you supervise them.
  • Monitor the area: The most important factor to child safety outdoors is adult supervision. If someone can’t be outside at all times watching, the next best thing is a home security camera that adults can monitor continuously.
  • Set check-in timers: It’s important that kids have an awareness of time and check in with you periodically to let you know they’re ok. Older kids with a smartphone can send or answer a check-in text. Phone or not, help your kids get into the habit of stopping playtime briefly every half hour or so to run in and let you know they’re ok. It’s easier said than done since time having fun passes quickly, so consider taking on the responsibility yourself by setting a timer to remind you to check on kids playing outside.
  • Use the buddy system: Kids of all ages should always play or hang out outdoors with a friend or two. If anything should happen, a buddy can ask for help. If a buddy system is not possible, an adult should supervise or make sure that outside play alone is restricted to a controlled environment, such as a fenced-in backyard.

Outdoor Safety Checklist

While it’s only natural for parents to feel concerned about their kids venturing back into the world, It’s necessary to step back and let them resume their everyday life — within limits. Download or print this safety preparation checklist and keep it handy. It may be helpful to review it each time your kid gets ready to go outside.

outdoor safety checklist

As we continue making our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, make sure your children also have their masks and a bottle or two of sanitizer to reduce the risk of catching and spreading the virus. Having an outdoor time backpack ready with some of the items mentioned could ensure kids have everything they need to stay safe and protected. Make sure to check the contents before they go out each time and restock the backpack as needed.

Have Fun — Safely

Good news — it appears that the world is slowly returning to normal. Kids and parents have sacrificed so much in the past year for their safety and the safety of those around them. It may be scary at first to return to old outdoor routines (or to build healthier new ones), but some preparation can make the transition smoother. Best of all, the physical and mental benefits of venturing back out into the big, beautiful world are worth it.

Mental Health in the New Year

new year new you

2020 was a year of release and gratitude. Releasing control and releasing what no longer served our purpose, but most importantly, being grateful for what we already have. It also shed a light on mental health. Depression and Anxiety were at their all-time high, and many were finally seeking the help they needed. You don't need to be at your lowest to get help, it's ok to speak up. Let's all talk about mental health and encourage everyone to put it high on our list this year.

We are halfway through the first week of 2021, have you written your goals yet? What are your goals? What lessons did you learn last year that you can implement this year?

Goal setting is a powerful process to create your ideal future by knowing what you want to achieve. It will help you know where you have to concentrate your efforts. By setting clear goals, you can measure and take pride in what you've accomplished and see the progress made.

If you have not yet written your goals for this year, here are some tips for goal setting:

  1. Put some thought into it. Some goals require lifestyle changes. You need to be fully aware of what the expectations are when you set up goals.
  2. Be realistic and start small. Saving a million dollars may not be very realistic, perhaps replace that with $50 each paycheck. It may not add up to be a million dollars at the end of the year but it will be a great start!
  3. Set timelines. For example, in the next 3 months, I will accomplish... OR by the end of the month, I will have this done.
  4. Break your goals down into action steps. What do you need to do to make your goals happen?
  5. Write it down, put it where you’ll see it daily. It's very helpful to complete a goal when it's around you or easily seen constantly.
  6. Go be awesome! You CAN do it! You might have setbacks or obstacles along the way, however, don't let them get you down. When you believe in yourself anything is possible. "If the plan doesn't work, change the plan but NEVER the goal."

Journaling is a good for your mental health

Journaling is Good for Mental Health Blog
Journaling for mental health

Have you ever heard someone talk about journaling and wondered how that works? We talked to a few of the therapists here at the Family Care Center and this is what we learned.

David Wood LPC, NCC, EEG

Journaling is very helpful for cognitive anxiety as well as existential stress. We think much faster than we write, so writing helps to slow our thinking, follow trains of thought to their rational conclusions, and the general catharsis of seeing an irrational thought in physical form of ink and paper can be very helpful and alleviating. Journaling can also help qualify therapeutic process, looking back on past journal entries and comparing them to current entries can improve progress.

Lisa Johnson M.A, LPC, RPT

It helps organize thoughts, feelings and emotions. When we keep things in our head, it is confusing and increases stress, anxiety and depression. We internalize our feelings and keeping them inside can be debilitating for some. There are many different ways to journal. There is no right or wrong way. It can help track our moods, our daily routines, helps process a situation or argument and helps us detangle all the confusion, frustration, anger, worry, feeling overwhelmed, etc. It can also build our self-esteem, our positivity and remind us how valuable, important, unique and loved we are. Journaling is a healthy way to process and untangle the confusion. There is a dance that happens when we are able to write it down on paper. The connection between our brain and transferring out our fingertips. It helps guide the energy out and place it on the page. Some people also type it but I do not feel it is a therapeutic as it is pen to paper.

Ken Datson LPC

Journaling can be a safe way in which to reconnect with difficult, painful, or traumatic past events. One approach to trauma is to help people to integrate their thoughts with their feelings, journaling can be one way that allows them to do that. In recalling past events, journaling can help to reconnect us with the emotions we experienced in those past events and then find words to express those emotions. This can help to provide meaning and understanding of what happened from a slightly different (less threatening) perspective. Writing down what we are feeling helps us to organize our feelings (we make better sense of them) and what they are trying to tell us. Emotions are not right or wrong per se, they just are, and we need healthy ways to express them. One of the ways to express this release is to “let the paper hold this for you.” Journaling by hand generally has a greater impact than typing one’s journal entries out. When journaling becomes a habit or a regular practice, it can help us look back as see how we have changed since often change occurs gradually and is hard to always see and appreciate in the moment. When combined with tracking how we respond to particular events or circumstances, we can see patterns in how we feel, think, and react which can help in forming future goals for therapy.

So there you have it, journaling can be an effective outlet when of dealing with stressors. The Family Care Center has many great therapists who can talk to you more about journaling or other practices to help deal with emotional issues. If you would like to learn more about our team visit or website or call our intake department at 719-540-2146.

COVID-19 and Kids Mental Health

coronavirus effects on kids mental health

Jeffrey Kluger

Pandemics can be indiscriminate, with viruses making no distinctions among the victims they attack and those they spare. If you’re human, you’ll do. COVID-19 has been different, particularly when it comes to age. The disease has shown a special animus for older people, with those 65-plus considered at especially high risk for hospitalization and death, and those 18 and below catching a semblance of an epidemiological break. Though a small share of adolescents have suffered severe cases, most who contract the disease in that age cohort are likelier to experience milder symptoms or none at all.

But if COVID-19 is sparing most kids’ bodies, it’s not being so kind to their minds. Nobody is immune to the stress that comes with a pandemic and related quarantining. Children, however, may be at particular risk. Living in a universe that is already out of their control, they can become especially shaken when the verities they count on to give the world order–the rituals in their lives, the very day-to-dayness of living–get blown to bits.

“I worry that kids will get a double wallop,” says Ezra Golberstein, a health-policy researcher at the University of Minnesota. “There’s the disease itself and the fear of it. On top of that, you’ve got the lock-downs, with kids removed from the school environment and their friends.” As summer approached, many of the 12,000 camps in the U.S. either postponed their seasons or canceled them altogether, further leaving children isolated. “Especially for kids predis-posed to seeing the world in pessimistic terms, there will be more anxiety because they feel so much more out of control,” says Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist specializing in children, and co-author of Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents. “We’re hearing kids say, ‘I’m afraid for myself, for my parents. What if we get sick?'”

Now, as the next school year approaches, there’s even more uncertainty. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for schools, analyzing the comparative infection risks for three different scenarios: continuing all-remote learning (what it calls “lowest risk”); mixing some remote learning with inperson classes and social distancing (“more risk”); and resuming full-time attendance (“highest risk”). It’s impossible to say which states will choose which approaches, but already, the massive Los Angeles and San Diego school systems have announced that they will begin the school year with remote learning only–a decision that means yet more quarantining for 825,000 students. They surely won’t be the only ones.

For now, there is a dearth of hard research on how the pandemic is affecting children’s mental health, mostly because the virus has been so fast-moving and studies take time. What data does exist is troubling. In one study out of China, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers in Hubei province, where the pandemic originated, examined a sample group of 2,330 schoolchildren for signs of emotional distress. The kids had been locked down for what, to quarantine-weary Americans, likely seems like a relatively short period–an average of 33.7 days. Even after that single month, 22.6% of them reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were experiencing anxiety.

Then too there is the other sickly victim of the pandemic: the economy, which continues to struggle badly. In a 2018 paper published in Health Economics, Golberstein and his co-authors studied economic conditions in the U.S. from 2001 to 2013 and found that during the Great Recession, a 5-percent-age-point increase in the national unemployment rate correlated with an astounding 35% to 50% increase in “clinically meaningful childhood mental-health problems.” With unemployment now exceeding 11%–compared with 3.6% in January–Golberstein expects to see more of the same emotional blowback. “When the economy is in a bad place, kids’ mental health gets worse,” he says. “This time is going to be much worse because it’s also a pandemic.”

Lisa Stanton lives in Houston with her husband and their 9-year-old fraternal twins. Both parents are employed and have been working from home–though Stanton’s husband has been able to go back to his on-site work as a property manager–and both children have been home from school. With their summer camp shuttered for the season, the kids have remained homebound and the household environment has grown … challenging.

“I’m seeing 100% more behavioral problems,” says Stanton. “My son, who has learning issues, has three meltdowns a day. With my daughter, the problem became addiction to the iPad. She has a TikTok account and created an [alias] of an older girl. We took the tablet away, and there were hysterics. She told us, ‘I want to be on the tablet all the time because [when I am] I don’t feel so lonely.'”

Loneliness in lockdown is common for kids separated from their friends. But all children will not be emotionally rattled by the pandemic equally–or even at all; COVID-19 will affect them to different degrees and in different ways. Roxane Cohen Silver, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, specializes in human responses to mass trauma and has most closely studied the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. and the 2006 and 2010 earthquakes in Indonesia and Chile, respectively. Though nobody in any culture does especially well in a time of such tragedy, Silver has found that the closer individuals are to a crisis–both geographically and personally–the greater the impact. People in New York City and Washington, D.C., had more acute reactions to 9/11 than people more removed from the terrorist strikes. The coronavirus is similarly hitting some people harder than others.

“The impact on a child’s sense of safety depends on the extent to which the family is affected,” Silver says. “If there is a loss or if the family has a drastic change in their economic consequences, this event would shape the children’s view of the world.”

But being able to avoid personal loss is not the same as avoiding the fear of it, and children are very much aware of what’s at stake. “I have a grandma and a grandpa who are very old, and it can infect them and they may die,” said 4-year-old Benjy Taksa of Houston, in a very brief mom-supervised interview with TIME. Lisa Taksa, Benjy’s mother, says her son doesn’t otherwise seem anxious about the pandemic, and to the extent he does, he is finding ways to cope. “In his play I’ll hear him say, ‘This bear is going to the museum, and he has to wear his mask,'” she says.

Another variable is whether a child came into the crisis with pre-existing mental-health problems. In the U.S., 7.1% of children in the 3-to-17 age group have been diagnosed with anxiety, according to the CDC. An additional 3.2% in the same age group suffer from depression. Then there are the 7.4% with diagnosed behavior problems and the 9.4% with ADHD. Silver found that in the aftermath of 9/11, adolescents’ level of distress closely tracked whether or not they had a history of such conditions. Other experts expect to see that pattern repeated because of COVID-19.

“Children who were struggling before [the pandemic] are at higher risk now,” says psychologist Robin Gurwitch, a professor at Duke University Medical Center. “You have to be careful about kids who were already in mental-health services; we have to make sure services aren’t disrupted.”

Adults and children in therapy with private mental-health professionals may go right ahead Zooming or Skyping their sessions with no interruption in treatment. But some kids don’t have the opportunity. In an April editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics, Golberstein and his co-authors reported that according to an analysis of 2014 data, 13.2% of adolescents received some form of mental-health services in the school setting in the preceding 12 months (a figure that is more or less the same today). Their further analysis of data from 2012 to 2015 showed that among all students who received any mental-health services, 57% got a portion of it at school while 35% received all of it there. With schools shut down, so is the care. And, as things stand, there’s no guarantee which schools will reopen in the fall.

“I worry about what this is doing to kids,” says Golberstein. “The extent to which they are able to access mental-health care is always a challenge. There’s a long-standing shortage, and it’s worse with the school closures.”

Age can also be a big factor in how hard the pandemic hits kids emotionally. Very small children might not notice anything is different except that their parents aren’t going to work, which may seem like all upside. “For younger children, being with their parents full-time is seen as a plus,” says Silver.

But those same younger kids have acutely twitchy antennae when it comes to reading the anxious mood of the older people around them. The ambient stress in a locked-down household in which parents are fretting, perhaps quarreling, and disinfecting everything that doesn’t move does not go unnoticed by children. “In very young children, you might see more clinginess,” says Gurwitch. “Kids are going to have a harder time sleeping. In children who have been potty-trained, you may see regression and accidents. This is not,” she adds, “a recipe for ease or joy.”

For schoolagers and teens, being with parents is all downside, and being with friends is everything. In the case of the pandemic, that essential socializing is out of the question. Silver points out that one of the things that helped Americans rebound after the 9/11 attacks was a sort of great cultural coming together–precisely what can’t happen now.

“People congregated and went to their houses of worship, and there were memorials,” she says. “For children, being restricted from gathering with friends at a time they may most want to spend time with them makes this event very different.”

If there is one thing that’s certain about the impact of the pandemic on the young mind, it’s that it’s not going to stop until the spread of COVID-19 itself does. For parents and other caregivers, that means mitigating the problem, not mending it altogether. One important step: dial back the media–especially TV news. Thomas Cooper, professor of media ethics at Emerson College in Boston, sees an important precedent in the coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks–and it troubles him. “During 9/11, we found that the prime-time coverage of airplanes flying into World Trade Center buildings with people jumping out of windows led to something that you might call emotional poisoning,” he says. “People saw it again and again and again and again, and there was a kind of totally demoralizing effect. When you hear about COVID-19 again and again and again and again, all of that leads to a kind of emotional poisoning too.”

How much coverage any one home should allow depends, again, on the age of the kids. “‘Littles’ shouldn’t be exposed to this at all,” Gurwitch says. “Don’t think that when they’re drawing or playing a game with you while you’re watching TV that they’re not listening.” For older kids who have a greater sense of the unfolding crisis, Gurwitch still recommends a limited TV diet. More important, she argues for open communication in which parents ask their children what they know–or think they know, correct them when they’re wrong and validate their fears. Thinking about precautions like social distancing as ways to behave proactively can also help kids regain some sense of control. “It can be framed as ‘Here’s what we’re doing to keep our families safe and keep others safe, and make sure health care workers don’t have to worry about us,'” Gurwitch says.

Eventually, the pandemic will assume its place in the canon of national traumas, alongside 9/11, the Challenger disaster and the Kennedy assassination. The young generation living through coronavirus now will have the same conversations with their peers as they get older–the do-you-remember and where-were-you-when exchanges–as earlier generations have had about those other tragedies. For some, the memories will be of a more private pain. The goal, for parents and professionals and other caregivers, is to help ease that pain, to make the now more bear-able for kids, so that the memories will be too.

See original aritcle here.