Nature Deficit Disorder in children

On 26th January I attended a community Republic day celebration, it was an outdoor celebration and the program was very well organized. Many kids and adults enthusiastically participated in the celebration.  Later I had a pleasure of hearing the Chief Guest, Harini Nagendra who was an environmentalist & I was captivated by her contents, she talked about environment, how to protect it, how it affects our lives etc but one term caught my attention and that was “Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) , I really enjoyed her speech it was pretty informative and then I started thinking on this so called non-medical disease “NDD”…

The term was first introduced by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods in order to explain how our societal disconnect with nature is affecting today’s children, bitter truth…Louv was a columnist and  While in US, I got an opportunity to read Louv’s columns in the newspapers, heard him on the Radio talk shows and even read reviews about his 2005 published book ‘Last child in woods’ so when I heard the term NDD last week, it made me nostalgic and also helped me revisit my thoughts on  this important term even more.

We all are familiar with the importance of outdoor activities in our life and how spending time outside is good for mental and physical health. We also know that how regular outdoor play can help our kids to be happier, healthier and in tune with nature and of course its lot of fun too. But we all agree that since last decade or so, childhood has moved from outdoor to indoor. With new technological inventions, so many new gadgets, school work, kids are spending more time indoors and missing out on all the wonderful, beautiful and creative things nature has to offer, outdoor. In short, NDD explains the lack of connection or relationship with environment/nature and how it affects our children, families and communities.

To make my kids understand this concept I didn’t have to spend time googling but I just had to walk down the memory lane, three years ago, when we visited Coorg, a hill station in Karnataka, my 4.5 years old son plainly refused to walk, explore, and enjoy anything in the coffee plantation there. Indeed, he was a small child that time but for him the natural surrounding of trees, insects, animals and soil was beyond his imagination. During our two hour plantation walk we carried him throughout. Not only he refused to walk but for two days during our stay in the plantation, he hardly ate anything & always preferred to sit only in the car. Neither did he do anything because of the insect fear nor did he allow us to enjoy our nature-trip. For him it  was an unfamiliar environment which he hadn’t seen or experienced before                                                                                                                           That was the time we realised our son needs more exposure to nature or outdoor activities. We also realised that our daughter who spent good number of her early years in a house with front and back yard, in the parks or exposed to hiking etc was enjoying it wholeheartedly but our son who hardly got such exposure was totally in a different mood. Since then we gave special emphasis on spending time outdoors, or taking our kids to their grandparents places where they can enjoy back yard, front yard and feel connected with nature. In three years I could say, results of our efforts are amazing, now my son enjoys outdoor activities, specially hiking, he feels happy, he is comfortable getting his hands dirty while planting a tree, he is ok with birds & animal sounds, he likes night sky watching, he became social & most importantly he has now more options before saying ‘I am bored “. Now a days  my son takes initiative in going out for hiking or nature trips although he still have that insect phobia little bit but I am sure with age slowly he will overcome it. I personally feel it’s also a matter of habit & what environment we parents create/give while raising our kids.

I understand most of us live in apartments, rather in concrete jungles with very less or no playgrounds or parks so unlike our parents we have to make extra efforts to help our kids get connected with nature. Based on my experience with two kids, I can say every child is different & we do see some amazing results of outdoor activities depending on the child’s personality, exposure to different things and their upbringing.  At the same time it is also true that we see positive changes in our child’s overall health, social interaction, their views about nature and natural resources, less anxiety & pressures, when they spend time in outdoor activities or get connected with nature. Please encourage your child to get out and play or help them explore Mother Nature. Of course while doing so it is equally important that we should teach our children to strike a balance between indoor and outdoor activities and give them a healthy environment to grow.

Sharing some of the basic things I had done for my son, check if you can use any of the following to encourage your child  to do outdoor activities.

  1. Explain the importance of outdoor play and getting fresh air, sun light, and tell kids stories or show related pictures.
  2. Initially make a routine and have 30-60 min of outdoor play/activity and be with your child till he/she is comfortable going alone. Please try not to send kids with house helpers because that is the time you can make your child comfortable with the environment and have one on one interactive talk.
  3. Try to have a kitchen garden, with kids help plant wheatgrass, methi (fenugreek seeds), garlic, tomatoes etc… let them take the lead in this activity from selecting the pots, soil, seeds etc, as they get involved in these activities they eat the same products  happily with no fuss.
  4. Plan at least once a month outdoor activity in the nearby park, nature friendly place and give them a chance to explore.
  5. Once in  2-3 months plan a nature trip give them few destinations and encourage them to find more about those destinations using electronic gadgets and based on their research select the destination.

We can’t deny the use and importance of technological inventions in our daily life but ‘Everything in moderation’, is a key to this. Let’s help our kids strike a balance between the Screen time and the Green time!!!!

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