This one thing is the real reason your kid won’t cooperate and five free ways to make it better now.  

Do you wish you had a handbook for raising a cooperative, respectful kid who achieves their full potential?  So did I, and then when my daughter was five months old she did something to show me that she came with one!   

Five months after my first daughter was born, my highly sensitive baby and I emerged from a newborn blur of projectile vomit and the haze of a sleepless winter.  It finally felt warm enough outside our grey Connecticut apartment to open the door and at the very least, sit on the front step.

That is one of the most profound moments in my personal and professional life, and I almost missed it.

My daughter did something that was as subtle as a leaf in the wind but as profound as the sun that rises every day.  When I walked outside, all she did was turn her face into the wind, and at first, it appeared like nothing, but then, it happened. Almost in slow motion, her eyes closed and her little body heaved and gasped over and over. Taking in the wind as though she had an internal wind compass, compelling her to navigate her face towards the direction from where it came. This was a clear demonstration of her innate connection with nature; and a clear indication that nature leads development. After that first time, I noticed that every time I took her outside, like the sail of a ship, she turned her face to catch the wind.

Much like a maritime sailer circumventing the oceans using wind and stars, she was engaging her nature sense.  

Nature Sense is a term I coined to explain our umbilicus between human and nature.

As my daughter grew, the more she engaged her nature sense ‘umbilicus,’ the more I understood it to be the primary way our neurological system instigates the necessary engagement through nature to build each stone in the foundation of our developmental house.  With my baby in tow, I combed through research in the local University library (before Google was a household word) and found evidence that our development is designed to be built after we are born.  It is designed to be guided and built by nature’s cohesive multisensory bits- sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and movement bits. It is designed for sensory cohesiveness (or integration) which is key to successful emotional regulation. Without the nature sense umbilicus orchestrating the bits, who knows what our neurology is guided by; random car sounds, TV shows, white noise – just a bunch of input that has virtually no neuro-nourishment and nothing that governs a fluid brain building experience- like an out of tune orchestra.   

And because we are several generations deep in our disconnection, it is easy to overlook the neurological system’s million-year-old desires.

In the above story, I almost missed my daughter attuning her nature sense by turning towards the wind and allowing it to guide an unconscious connective process between her and the natural world.  It would have been EASY for me to think she was uninterested in the toy I was offering her and was possibly already developing baby ADHD, but because I am lucky enough to have had some AMAZING parenting mentors, I began to pay more attention to the things she was paying attention to. My small consistent discoveries naturally weaved with my occupational therapy education and training, and a MUCH bigger picture came into focus.

Instead of seeing kids behavior as disrespectful and uncooperative, I began to uncover the reasons for them ignoring adults, having meltdowns, being disrespectful, inattentive and dysregulated- and it almost always led back to a disconnect with the Nature Sense!  Whoa, I couldn’t believe it was all right there.

As a young mother, I often had joked that babies should be born with a playbook or operating instructions but instead they ‘just hand a baby to you and off you go!’  

As my new curiosity about what made this creature (my daughter) tick became a serious obsession, I discovered there actually is an operating manual that comes with all babies.

Once I found the manual, learning to read the foreign language required me to find more knowledgeable mentors and some extra elbow grease, but a few chapters in and raising my new little human became less about survival mode and more about capitalizing on the abundant opportunities in daily life…and life got easier.

The more books on neuroscience I read, the more I understood that most development happens after the baby is born!  

Devouring courses in human development helped me understand that physical, emotional and social development is not a birthright but are actively built processes that require skill, attention, and knowledge from caregivers; and I realized I was ridiculously alone in human resources and skill!  

Even as a trained occupational therapist I felt ill-equipped to capitalize on all the ways nature could support me in raising this big, blue-eyed being who seemed to demand every ounce of energy I had.

Watching nature’s abundant developmental supports lead my child, brought back memories of my own childhood.  My father is the last fisherman of my family heritage, and although I didn’t know it, I was raised with nature connection modeling. This connection was reawakened through my daughter’s eyes more and more as she grew against the grain of my enculturated bias of ‘appropriateness’.  I noted that often when it appeared she was ignoring me and not cooperating, there was a neurological call she was responding to that was overriding my direction. Since the beginning of time, humans have lived in a symbiotic relationship with the earth and all of her inhabitants.  

There has always been a historical, ongoing call and response between human and the environment.  Nature calls, humans answer; and in that answer, the next piece of our survival puzzle emerges adding to our stacked deck of development. Nature still calls our little ones and until we stop them, they answer back.  This call and a child’s desire to respond can often be super frustrating in our human-centric world, especially when just getting from the front door to the car becomes as difficult as climbing Mount Everest.  But to our little ones, every stone, leaf, bird, and blade of grass makes that short walk every bit as adventurous as Everest would be to us.  

When we unintentionally stop that interactive experience between our child and nature, we halt a developmental program running as the operating system that has been tweaked and fine-tuned for a million or more years.  

Human development is merely a byproduct of survival over millennia.  Each call and responsive answer builds a new layer of cellular intelligence, and thus weaves a complicated neurological system as a result of this interactive, experience.  As very young children and science show us, modern humans can capitalize on this ancient intelligence and have fewer meltdowns, less defiance, better attention, and resolve most mental health issues.   

In the blink of an evolutionary eye, everything about the human experience has changed. Humans have moved from living, working, and playing 100% entirely outside, to doing these activities almost wholly inside.  The journal of time use Research reports that children now spend 93% of their time indoors. We live in an unprecedented time; A moment when, for the first time in the history of humanity, our NATURE SENSE is slated for extinction, and that is terrible news for our children.  Just as there have been many indicators demonstrating the insidious demise of numerous species in the natural world, there are just as many indicating the trailing end of our nature sense and thus our children’s developmental potentials.  Without a nature sense conducting the sensory-motor orchestra that forms a fluid developmental song, our emotional regulatory system becomes an out of sync orchestra and looks an awful lot like behavioral meltdowns and attentional deficits.  

One universal sign of the impending demise of our nature sense, is that by the age of nine, children are relatively uncomfortable and notoriously bored outside. Children routinely report “there is nothing to do out there” and “there are no birds” and “I don’t like the _____(fill in the blank with any number of complaints).   

There was a time that boredom yielded a deep connective drop into the sensory richness of the floating clouds, the caresses of wind on the face, the physiological entrainment of the undulating ocean waves or the zigzag pattern of a flock of birds in the sky.  That drop in with nature did a whole lot more than merely calm our nerves. It created a coordinated experience between all of our embodied sensory-motor systems.  I have discovered that masses of children cannot determine what direction the wind is coming from, do not know what direction the sun rises and sets, what an ordinary dandelion looks like, and very likely have not experienced the sensory passions of the things I mentioned above; leaving them disconnected from neurological synchrony.

Many children I have worked with can reference a movie or a video game of stars but have never seen the night sky, don’t know that the moon changes daily, or even how to locate it in the sky.  The open door for Nature-Led developmental opportunities is quickly closing and an artificial door opening, and, although humans are an intelligent species, we can’t possibly contrive of a better developmental experience in a few short years, than the one that spent millions of years in development.  One must learn the direction of the wind, sun, stars and the medicinal properties of the dandelion through active attentional processes and it is only in this way that they achieve developmental potential. Children are wired at birth to connect; with all things. Connection for children happens through paying attention to what the adults in their view are paying attention to. Adults would be wise to know that ‘to do’, is to model. What is modeled to us, wires a good deal of our operating systems. Humans are wired to attend to modeling in the environment, whatever that modeling may be; good, bad, ugly or beautiful.  In my daughter’s case above, she was answering an original developmental call; a nature-led call. A call from nature, directly to her tactile system, and she responded.  If I had I allowed my busyness to interfere, I may not have noticed my infant daughters attention to the wind. I may have unintentionally shut down that connective thread. Had I modeled ignoring instead of modeling attention to the wind, she would have lost an opportunity to fire and wire her attentional system by connecting with the wind.  Ignoring would have been detrimental in three primary ways: The first, to develop a thread of connection between herself and her environment which conducts her development. The second would have disconnected her from a free, accessible simple and nature-led way to establish undeveloped sensory pathways. The third would have put a small fray in the thread between her and me, because we have an embedded operating code that creates a NEED for connection. In addition, her affinity for the wind direction was also an environmentally orienting experience.  

Although this little moment can seem insignificant on a grander scale, it is quite the opposite.  It has profound consequences because healthy development is a result of life’s cumulative moments. Effects that range from a neurological determination that the wind is an insignificant event and so the sensory information from it is unimportant and can be turned off; ultimately setting my daughter up to be separate from the natural world instead of a part of it.  On the other side of the spectrum of consequence is the energetic message to my daughter that ignoring the internal desire to explore and thus actively develop her sensory systems in the world is what I expect of her.

The human sense of nature, or nature sense, provides an internal state of being through attention and connection with the nuances of all our relations;  A state that is informed, developed and oriented through the external environment.

When one develops the nature sense as a young child, like developing the senses of sight or hearing, it becomes a ubiquitous support in their operational abilities in the world.  

Ultimately, when a nature foundation is at the base of one’s development, a person will protect, cherish and value the entirety of the natural world; self, community, and earth;  all our relations. We are nature, and because of this, with a little conscious effort, we can reclaim the nature sense.  

If we consider the possibility of a Nature Sense, one can begin to see that we are born with a built-in operating system that informs healthy human development.  The nature sense guides or ‘leads’ our inter-actions between human and nature. This interaction may be the most valuable developmental tool humans have;  shifting one from thinking about life in terms of human-focused to one that follows a nature-led existence.

Five Things you can do today to begin rewiring the Nature Sense:

  1. Stop and look. Vision develops by looking far and near at color, shape, pattern, texture, etc.
  2. Stop and listen. Hearing is passive, but listening is active. Listening to the nuances of the natural world will wire up the auditory processing system in a coherent, integrated way that supports attention, balance, emotional regulation, peace, and even heart rate.
  3. Be curious (you).  Children learn by what we ‘do’, not as much by what we ‘say’. Do curious.    
  4. Allow your child time to be curious. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it wired our ability to problem solve.  Problem solving skills are the number one trait listed in numerous studies as to what the next generation will need to secure good jobs.
  5. Take a wander and allow time to explore. Meltdowns are often a result of a stressed system.  A wander with no purpose meets two ancient needs: it follows the child’s curiosity and calms the nervous system and it develops a more flexible thinker.
  1.  Stop and look.

Vision is passive.  The development of the visual system is an entirely active process.  The Nature Sense supports this developmental need.

Take your child outside and play “I spy” with nature – Be descriptive and add specific details, slyly calling attention to nuances that they might miss otherwise.   

“I spy Robin Redbreast in a tree!”

“I spy a gopher hole next to a rock.”

  1.  Stop and listen.

Hearing is passive too.  Listening is active. Nature offers many meaningful sounds to develop a child’s listening systems actively.  Play ‘sound and seek’ outside – Give clues to scaffold the game (“your getting warmer…”). The more success they have right away, the more engaged they will be with more difficult sounds later.  Begin with sounds you know they will recognize and then gradually add less apparent sounds.

“Point to the sound of the train.”

“Point to where the horn just honked”

next:

“Point to the farthest sound you hear.”

next:

“Point to the bird singing”

  1. Be curious.

As much as we adults like to think otherwise, children learn from our actions more than our words.  If we are curious about the sensory offerings from the outdoors, they will be too.

  1. Allow your child time for curiosity.

Curiosity only results in brain expansion and connections through active exploration.  Children are born with an innate curiosity about the outdoors. Walking out the front door is a grand adventure, if, we get out of the way and let it happen!  Become childlike and follow your little explorers lead- you will be amazed at where they take you.

  1. Take a wander and see what shows up!

On the way home, stop the car somewhere you are always thinking of stopping; that creek, pathway, park, tree, meadow, etc. Look at the plants, stones, leaves, dirt; what ‘jumps’ out?  What are your eyes drawn to? What are other senses (besides vision) you are engaging? What are you hearing? Smelling? Feeling?

If you want to learn how to use the nature sense to build your child’s attentional skills and get them to cooperate, sign up here for a free 15-minute consultation to find out more now.