The role of public and private natural space in children's social, emotional and behavioural development in Scotland: A longitudinal study

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IntroductionPoor mental health in childhood has implications for health and wellbeing in later life. Natural space may benefit children's social, emotional and behavioural development. We investigated whether neighbourhood natural space and private garden access were related to children's developmental change over time. We asked whether relationships differed between boys and girls, or by household educational status.MethodsWe analysed longitudinal data for 2909 urban-dwelling children (aged 4 at 2008/9 baseline) from the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) survey. The survey provided social, emotional and behavioural difficulty scores (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)), and private garden access. Area (%) of total natural space and parks within 500 m of the child's home was quantified using Scotland's Greenspace Map. Interactions for park area, total natural space area, and private garden access with age and age2 were modelled to quantify their independent contributions to SDQ score change over time.ResultsPrivate garden access was strongly related to most SDQ domains, while neighbourhood natural space was related to better social outcomes. We found little evidence that neighbourhood natural space or garden access influenced the trajectory of developmental change between 4 and 6 years, suggesting that any beneficial influences had occurred at younger ages. Stratified models showed the importance of parks for boys, and private gardens for the early development of children from low-education households.ConclusionWe conclude that neighbourhood natural space may reduce social, emotional and behavioural difficulties for 4–6 year olds, although private garden access may be most beneficial.HighlightsChildren with gardens had better social, emotional and behavioural scores.Children with more neighbourhood natural space had better social skills.Developmental trajectories did not differ with natural space availability.

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