Childhood Nature Contact and its Effect on Coping Skills

Mary-Jeanne Raleigh (2009)

Reported anxiety levels continue to rise, in conjunction with a decrease in the depth and breath of coping strategies reported in college populations throughout the United States (Arthur, 1998; Twenge, 2000). Emotional management skills begin development in middle childhood (8-12yrs) and transition into adult coping skills in early adulthood (18-24yrs) (Seifert, 2000). The uses of natural restorative environments for coping may be reinforced during developmental phases in which coping skills are being learned. The development of coping strategies incorporating the use of natural restorative environments maybe contingent on early exposure to the qualities of natural restorative space found in routine nature (nature found in backyards, empty lots, school yards, athletic fields etc). This is a mixed method study, blending qualitative information and quantitative data, exploring the relationship between exposure to nature in childhood and the use of natural restorative environments for coping in adulthood. The key research questions include: Do individuals who report spending time in nature during childhood report spending more time in restorative nature as adults? Do individuals who report utilizing natural restorative environments demonstrate a reliance on active coping skills? Do individuals reporting high contact with nature in childhood and in adulthood report low to moderate trait anxiety? The independent variable in this study is time spent outside during middle childhood. Dependent variables include coping skills, use of restorative environments in adulthood and anxiety levels. A convenient sample of 121 college students from the New England region of the United States completed a series of written assessments focused on nature contact, coping and anxiety, followed by interviews with 9 participants reporting specific trait anxiety levels. Results confirm that young adults who utilize natural restorative environments for soothing were more likely to report spending time in nature during childhood. Participants who report using natural restorative environments for soothing were more likley to report a reliance on active coping skills. Trait anxiety levels were not correlated with nature exposure in childhood. These findings may help create an understanding of the importance of nature contact in the development of positive mental health and effective coping skills.

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