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Four Essentials: Raising a Well-Developed Child, Part 2...Nature and Quiet Space

I have worked with teenagers, children and families for the last 20 years. One of my conclusions: living a life of purpose, wholeness and fulfillment comes as a result of lots of intentional effort.

As I write this, I am looking out over my back yard, a little corner cultivated out of the Garden of Eden (minus the race track of Tyvola Road noise behind the bird songs). My husband is a gardener. He knows the names of all the plants and flowers, he knows when and how many times they will bloom, he knows how to prepare soil and find their best spot in the yard according to what they need. This wonderland didn’t just happen. It has taken much time, back-aching effort, and years of cultivating curiosity. When we sit down in our patio chairs to chat before the sun goes down, we experience internal peace and rest simply because the cultivated land does a work on our souls.

As I stated in Part 1: “Maturity does NOT come with age.” It doesn’t magically appear at age 27. Our kids need particular essentials to become mature adults. Essentials that require discipline and the sacrifice of other things. A child may have to get off the couch in order to clean the kitchen, or leave his homework to set the dinner table, or clean his bathroom before going out with friends. It may be a sacrifice that your child doesn’t get to invite a friend to the beach with your family in order that you bond as a unit. It may mean some activities have to be cut out so that dinner around the table as a family takes priority. These choices and sacrifices are based on what research says about a child’s development. We can put stock in that. Furthermore, many of us would attest from our personal experiences growing up.

Chores matter. Helping out around the house means each family member is a part of things running well. It means the workload doesn’t fall on one person. And chores will squish narcissism flat to the ground while building healthy confidence. Times together as a family matter. Family bonding builds security, trust, and humility. Being a part of a family relieves some of the pressure kids feel in their peer groups. The hope is that they can be at rest in the security of family. There are two other essentials to the wellbeing of one’s life. In our digital age, these building blocks are some of the first to go. Nature and silence are tools I use all the time as I coach people out of being stuck.

3. Nature: Adults and children alike need the outdoors. Studies reveal benefits to our brains, bodies and souls. Wide open spaces make us breathe more deeply. The sounds, colors, breeze, and quiet…it’s a fact: our souls need to be in the middle of natural beauty. With the dramatic rise in anxiety and depression, with the pull of screens and the over-scheduled life, we need it more than ever. Each early morning when I sit outside and take in the birds, the new blooms, the smells, peace often rises up. The fast pace of screen-scrolls, the barrage of information, the sounds of Youtube videos and all the onslaught of opinions…our brains can only handle so much. We rarely reset for our minds to calm down. Nature does this powerful work. The poets of years past like William Wordsworth and Robert Frost and those today like Wendall Berry and the late Mary Oliver, made a habit of walking around outside. They paid attention to the earth. As a result, they found themselves made new. Refreshed. Calmed. And hopeful.

The natural world is like medication. Sadly, the more digitally connected kids are, the less they choose to be outside. Getting outdoors and being in untamed space must be an intentional choice. Parents need to lead this endeavor. It may require taking a longer drive to get somewhere, or it may mean doing the work to find places of beauty near you. I grew up being outside. Today, I can feel when my soul needs to get around trees, birds, sunshine, and the solitude of a path back into the woods. I cannot imagine how anxious, depressed and claustrophobic I would feel without those spaces.

4. Quiet: It’s the same for kids and adults alike. If we stay so busy, so connected to noise, information and contact with others, we will experience a level of discomfort when we are finally quiet and alone.

“Why do you have your TV on in your room when you aren’t even watching it?” I asked a girl I was mentoring. She was a junior in high school.

“Oh, if I turn it off I start to have a panic attack.”

Some people drink, some fill their evening schedules, some go to sleep, most stay online…We do not know how to be with just ourselves. We don’t know what to do with all the thoughts shoved down deep and far away. When we are finally still, our busy minds with all our scattered thoughts can’t settled down. Chaos. So we check out. One way or another we make it our full-time job to avoid silence. People will tell me, “oh no, I don’t mind being alone at all! I actually love being by myself!” But when I press and ask what they do with their time alone, it often involves noise. On a walk…with a podcast, sitting on the back porch…with Instagram, being in the shower…with music playing through the bluetooth, riding around in the car…with SiriusXM. Maybe it scares us. Maybe we just don’t know what to do with empty space. But I have learned of some advantages to cultivating quiet space:

-We learn to process the deluge of information going into our brains

-Convictions surface over things we need to apologize for or change in our lives

-Anxiety begins to lessen as the noise dissipates

-We start to pray

-Our bodies and minds reset

-We cultivate gratitude over simple things

-Our values begin to take shape instead of being influenced by culture

-We are better listeners when we are with others

After years of avoiding quiet time and space, we will being to malfunction, and may likely never know it’s happening. If you have little children, require 10 minutes of quiet time alone each day.

Parents, be examples in your home. Turn off the TV, radio and computer if you aren’t using them. Get outside without your phone and walk around. Take a walk without earbuds. Show your kids how it works and why you do it. At first it will be difficult, but when you push through, you will begin to experience peace. Most of us would admit a desperate need for peace. And peace is hard to come by if we don’t ever shut off the noise.

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