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We often talk about what to do to get your child excited about nature study, but today we want to talk about what do you do if your child is overly excited in nature, so much so that they are scaring away the animals and disturbing other people who are in the area as well. How can you help them grow in self-control, but not squelch their love of nature? Let’s ask Karen.
Sonya: Karen, we are still talking nature study, and today is a very interesting question from a sweet mama. I want to read the whole question so you can get the picture of the child as she describes him and see what kind of help you can give her. Are you ready?
Karen: I’m ready.
Question: I would love to hear some perspective on how to honor the rules of a public space and consider other visitors, while not totally stifling a student’s enthusiasm and curiosity. My youngest especially struggles: He knows to stay on the trail and not pick flowers, etc., but he requires frequent reminders, and his energy and enthusiasm is often very loud, which is disruptive and inhibits others that are visiting the preserve to look for birds or other wildlife. He understands that there are times and places for being noisy and being quiet, but he’s still learning self-control, and the result is that walks through nature preserves (something we do frequently as a family) are torture for him, because he’s constantly being corrected, and I see it starting to affect his perception of being out in the woods. I would like helpful ideas on ways to adjust my language so it doesn’t feel like an endless stream of “No!” “Stop!” “Hush!”
All right, you get the feel of what this mom is dealing with. How would you advise her? What would you counsel?
Karen: You know, we tell children not to use their outside voices inside.
Sonya: That’s true, yes. Inside voices and outside voices.
Karen: Yes, and then we take them outside and expect them to use their inside voices outside.
Sonya: Yes, that is so true.
Karen: So we need to keep that in mind that our children have been told, “This is the place to use your outside voice and now you can’t,” so we need to help our children to understand that there’s a time and a place to be loud outside. So one thing that you can do to start with: Give your child a chance to run around and be loud before you start your walk or your study.
Sonya: Get the energy out, and encourage him to yell at that point, or be loud at least, yeah.
Karen: If there’s a playground, let him play for a little while. Tell him, “I’m going to let you play for 10 minutes, 15 minutes,” whatever you think is right for your child, “okay, and then we will have our walk.” So give him a chance to get rid of some of that energy first.
Sonya: That makes total sense, because I think it’s in Home Education, when Charlotte’s talking about having the children outdoors a lot, she talks about how they’re running around, but not just running, but filling their lungs and using their lungs. So it totally makes sense.
Karen: Yes. Another thing you can do is talk with your children about your expectations for when you are out in nature. Not when they’re outside playing, but when you are going on your nature walk, or you’re going to be doing a nature study, what are your expectations of them? They don’t know unless we tell them, and this is not a one-time thing.
Sonya: Right. I was just going to say, they might need just a little reminder in the moment, especially if they’re young.
Karen: Yes. You’re still training them what the expectations are.
Sonya: I used to do that with my kids going into a store. “We keep our hands to ourselves. We use our indoor voices,” there it is. “And we stay with Mom.” Just keep it simple, and I have found it helpful, by the way, to word those expectations as the positive, what I do expect rather than trying to go down the whole list of what not to do, because they’re always going to come up with something you didn’t think of.
Karen: Always. They’re good at that.
Sonya: I love that idea about reminding them of the expectations. Not in a lecture, but just gentle reminders in the moment so it’s foremost in their minds. We’re setting them up for success is what we’re doing.
Karen: We are. Another thing you could do is practice loud and quiet voices. So give them a chance, “Okay everybody, use your loud voices,” and let them scream at the tops of their lungs if that pleases them. And then say, “Okay everybody, use your quiet voices now,” and give them a chance to practice that. You can practice that at home, and then give them a chance before you start your walk to practice those quiet and loud voices. And then you can remind them, “We’re going to use our quiet voices now as we walk.” It will take some practice for those young ones who are still learning self-control. And you’re going to have to give them much grace, and just know that they’re not doing it to be mean to Mom or to embarrass you. They’re doing it because it’s who they are and they forget.
Sonya: It’s hard not to take it personally when you feel embarrassed, but I love that idea of, “Focus on the child. You’re helping the child grow. This is a learning opportunity for the child; this is not about you; this is about them.”
Karen: Yes. So now you’re on your walk. Your child’s getting loud and excited, and you know that energy is starting to come out. What are some things you can do while you are walking? You can try redirecting that energy towards something. Find something easily; don’t go hunting around looking for something. Whatever you see in a glance, try and direct your child to that. “Oh, did you see that interesting tree over there? Did you see how the branches are growing?” So redirect, even for a moment, trying to take their mind off being loud.
Sonya: Okay, give them something else to think about.
Karen: Yes, so that’s one thing that you could do. Another thing is if you know that something is safe, a rock, maybe, the water in a creek or a lake, sand, a plant, as long as you know it’s safe, you can allow him to touch it, because now he’ll have a tactile way to get rid of some of his energy and focus on what he’s doing.
Sonya: So it’s not just the mental refocus; you’re using his senses, his other senses, to help him refocus as well.
Karen: You could even ask him to stop and listen, “Did you hear that bird? What sound does it make? Do you recognize it?” If he’s learned some bird calls, that would certainly be something you could ask him. Sometimes allowing him to carry something can help redirect that energy: a backpack, his own water bottle, maybe it’s the binoculars that you’re going to use, or a magnifying glass. A backpack could be heavy enough that for those children who need that sensory feedback, that could be something that would help slow them down but give them that feedback that they need. It can remind them to stay quiet and to stay focused. Binoculars and magnifying glasses are great interactive things. They can stop and look through the binoculars or find something to look at with the magnifying glass; so those are all ways to redirect your child and keep them focused on remaining in control of themselves, not being loud, running off, all those things that moms wish their children wouldn’t do when they’re out enjoying nature.
Sonya: But it’s helping them have something to do. It’s not just, “Don’t do this,” it is, “Here’s something you could do,” instead.
Karen: It’s a very positive way of redirecting that energy. Now the, “How do I stop my, ‘Hush,’ ‘Stop,’ that continuous talk?”
Sonya: Yes. She asked about ideas for adjusting her language.
Karen: Yes, so it’s easy, as a parent, to be on autopilot when we’re with our children. “Stop that.” “Don’t do that.” And we’re sometimes not even aware of what they’re doing; we just know whatever they’re doing is annoying us.
Sonya: And we just react.
Karen: It’s good to have yourself pause for a moment before you say “stop it” again, and see if you can find something to redirect your child to. Instead of saying, “Stop it,” you could say, “Oh, look at that rock formation. Did you see how the river is flowing here?” Sometimes we have to say “stop” or “be quiet,” but a continual stream of that to our children—our children tune us out when that’s all they hear.
Sonya: That was a little “aha” moment right there. We need to expect the same thing of ourselves that we’re expecting of our children, because we’re expecting them to learn how to pause before using that loud voice and to control themselves and redirect that energy to what is positive. I’m hearing you say the same thing about the parent; rather than jumping right into, “No, don’t, hush, be quiet,” we need to learn to pause, exercise our self-control, and redirect that into something positive.
Sonya: That’s a tall order. But it makes total sense; you should not expect your child to have more self-control than you do.
Karen: Yes, and we’re all guilty of wanting our children to be better behaved than we are, and we need that little reminder that we struggle with things too, and we are not always on our best behavior either. Our children are no different, and they’re young and still learning, so we need to remember that.
I want to give some encouragement to moms who have these very energetic children. Don’t be discouraged. Your child’s behavior, when you’re out in nature, or sometimes even at home, is not really a reflection of how well you’ve parented them or disciplined them. Children are sometimes very energetic. I often say to young moms, “I wish I had just a fraction of that child’s energy.” And don’t we all? They have so much. I wish they’d share. But if you know that you are training your children, and you are disciplining them, don’t be discouraged. Show compassion to them. Know that they are they are learning, that they are still young, that it’s difficult for them. Acknowledge that your child needs that sensory feedback. Your child needs time to run off some of that energy, and then try to be patient and remember that your child will, as he grows and matures, learn how to control himself better when he’s in nature. I know it seems like a long way down the road when you’re dealing with a six- or seven-year-old who is so full of energy, that someday that child is going to be 12, 13, 14, years old and will be able to control himself better at that point.
Sonya: And I think a key there is saying “will be able to control himself better.” It’s all about growth at each child’s pace, and so even comparing my 13-year-old, let’s say, to my neighbor’s 13-year-old is not fair.
Karen: No, because they’re different.
Sonya: They’re individuals. The child is a person, and so look for growth in that child, and celebrate the growth. Whatever pace it may be.
Karen: Yes and sometimes you have to look hard. But it will be there, if you keep trying and don’t give up. Be patient with yourself; be patient with your child, and keep trying.
Sonya: Good words. Thanks, Karen.