As a child, if my world wasn’t as I felt it should be, I would head off into the countryside until such a time as I felt ready to do battle again and make it the way it should be. I think it’s fair to say I always ‘got’ the outside and knew instinctively of its inherent potential.
There are many who are not so fortunate. Mental health has become the centre of a huge amount of focus currently and rightly so. Without support and advice stress or depression is difficult to handle especially for men who need to appear macho and able to deal with anything. Recent celebrities we have lost such as Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, to name a few, have put a further spotlight on the issue, as have the high-profile publicity supplied by Princes William and Harry.
Often the difficulties are set in place consciously or unconsciously in childhood when we are very susceptible to the influence of others or our environments. Schools are partly to blame. Whilst obviously installing a lot of very useful life skills, i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic, to quote the cliché, children are also taught to conform to and fit in with a society that ultimately wants everyone in their place and not to be ‘different’.
This is not the place to get in to the politics of what is right or wrong, but to try and spot the signs of distress in our children or look for the reasons why children misbehave or just don’t ‘fit in’.
Whist not a qualified psychiatrist or social worker I have spent many years in schools in various roles, the most important, as a teacher. It is here that you begin to see some of the signs that children are having difficulties. Often children are more open in their symptoms than adults who have learnt to hide their feelings, they can appear reclusive, tired, or aggressive, often misfunctioning for little or no reason. And often schools struggle to adequately support their struggling pupils.
Without fail though, the one place that these children are appeased is when you take them outdoors. As a classroom teacher I would take the children outside for as many lessons as possible and as a field teacher for the RSPB our classroom was outside, period! Teachers would say ‘watch out Fred or Harry’…. but those children usually without fail became the most model of pupils. Behaviour always changes, maybe just because we or they feel less closed in, maybe because they feel less threatened by those perceived as authority, maybe because outside it is so much easier for all five senses to be stimulated simultaneously. We feel the heat of the sun, or the wind as it brushes our skin, we hear wildlife moving about its business, the robin singing or insects buzzing as they collect food. We might eat a berry or just brush our hands through vegetation or smell the scents of honeysuckle for example. Somehow just living becomes better.
It is not that long since the outside dominated our lives and our bodies unconsciously remember whether we choose to immerse ourselves in nature or are given the opportunity by circumstance. I’m sure this is part of the reason we see children outside as well as being the one place they don’t have to answer to anyone else.
But ultimately, it’s a great place to find peace whether within us or around us and children know this just as well as we do. In fact, often they know more than we do.