Encouraging your children to garden or simply relax and have fun in your outdoor space is excellent for their wellbeing. With one in eight young people suffering with a mental health condition by the age of 14, gardening could be a useful tool in helping with problems such as anxiety and stress as well as improving confidence.
A light touch and flexible approach is usually best. Children might want to garden along with you, perhaps planting a colourful flower of their choice, digging the hole and watering it in - and younger children will love their own set of mini tools. Or they might prefer their own dedicated space - a big pot will do - to make a mud pie or grow strawberries. Children enjoy some control over their life to be creative and have fun.
Sowing and nurturing seeds with children gives them a great sense of achievement, especially if you pick flowers with instant appeal such as cosmos, snapdragons, and cheerful nasturtiums. Growing and harvesting tasty fruit and vegetables such as cherry tomatoes is also satisfying. Children will learn about patience and responsibility as the plants grow, and picking flowers to bring indoors or making a lovely salad with herbs and lettuce from the garden is a calming activity and may encourage more of an interest in eating healthily
Annabelle Padwick, who runs gardening courses to help children with their mental health, is all too aware of the benefits of gardening for building confidence and self-esteem. ‘Gardens are a space with no judgement. If it goes wrong no one will say anything but if it goes right there’s a massive sense of achievement,’ she says. She teaches teenage girls, for example, to think of weeding as stress relief where they’re removing negative thoughts or toxic friends, and she shows them how to make lip balms with the extracted oils. She uses talking therapy in the garden, where planting seeds might lead to talks of hopes and dreams, helping the young people to make decisions and thrive in life as they go forwards.
Even if children aren’t actually gardening, just being outside in a green space, brushing past some scented lavender, watching wildlife, playing with water on a hot day or lying on a hammock looking up at the blue sky, is a great respite from the screen, and soothing for kids of all ages.