Local doc tells parents to brave the cold with their kids

Rain, rain, go away.

The cold, wet weather in Seattle has kept more than a few parents from venturing outside with their kids.

Britt Wibmer, a Seattle mother of two, says her sons would happily play in the cold and rain.

"They would go out, but mommy doesn't want to!" she says.

But, a local researcher says it is important for kids to play outside throughout the year, and she's got tips to help parents and children enjoy the outdoors, no matter what the weather is like.

Dr. Pooja Tandon with the Seattle Children's Research Institute says outdoor play is critical for children's physical development and mental health. By running, jumping and climbing, kids develop strong bones and primary motor skills, improve their heart health and maintain a healthy weight.

While indoor exercise is also good for kids, Tandon says research shows children tend to be more active when they are outside.

Outdoor play can also encourage children to be more active later in life, Tandon says.

"It makes them feel more confident outdoors, which sets them up for a more active lifestyle later on," she says.

Tandon says outside play can also affect a child's behavior. Teachers and childcare providers have reported to her that kids focus better, and are more likely to behave themselves, after coming inside following outdoor play.

Tandon says she never recommends punishing children by taking away a physical activity, such as recess.

"Children who are not getting outdoors are generally going to be more restless, which can lead to behavioral problems," Tandon says.

Tandon's own research focuses on children ages 3 to 5. She recommends these kids spend 60 minutes a day playing outdoors, but has found that more than half of preschool-age children are not taken outside to play on a daily basis.

The doctor reports that girls are less likely to spend time playing outdoors than boys.

Natalie English, a West Seattle mom, says her 3-year-old daughter Ella hates being outside in the cold weather.

"It seems like boys are more willing to be cold," English says.

Tandon says kids who don't play outside tend to spend more time doing sedentary activities like watching television and are less likely to participate in sports later in life. She says a lack of outdoor play can negatively affect a child's social health and peer interaction.

So how do parents convince their children, and themselves, to venture into the great outdoors? Tandon has two young kids herself, so she understands the challenges parents face getting their kids outside during the winter. Still, she recommends activities like night hikes, scavenger hunts and snowboarding or skiing.

"Parents can take the opportunity to do something as a family like take a walk or ride a bike," Tandon says. "It can give them the opportunity to be active too while spending time with their kids."

Tandon recommends parents make a plan with anyone who cares for their child to get them outside during most optimal times of day, typically the afternoon.

Parents can also make plans with other families so that they are less likely to cancel outdoor play and enjoy themselves more.

"I find that our children are more likely to be excited about being outdoors when they have their friends with them," Tandon says.

Most importantly, Tandon says parents and kids must be prepared for winter weather.

"Clothing is most important," Tandon says. "If you wear things that keep you warm and dry you're more likely to have a positive experience."

Despite the chilly temperatures, Tandon says it is important for everyone's mental health to spend a little time outside.

"This is the time of year when most of us most desperately need that change of scenery and fresh air."