Thursday, August 21, 2014

Four Tips for Keeping Kids Motivated to Hike or Paddle

Ever get the family packed and ready to hike or paddle only to have one stubborn little mule dig his or her heels in and refuse to budge. Now what?

Sometimes kids are perfectly comfy, warm, and well fed (Rule #1) and they enjoy plenty to do (Rule #2), but even so they disrupt the outing.

This calls for rule #3 – keep them motivated. 

I’ve experienced success motivating my child using each of these tips…

1. Rewarding kids to keep them happy in the outdoors


Sippy cup with milk, a.k.a. toddler trail bribe.
I know, I know. We shouldn’t bribe our kids. We should be stellar, in-control parents whose children obey our every command. I have to admit it.  I am not above bribery.
Sometimes the promise of a granola bar, a swim, or a stop at the playground on the way home are motivation enough to stop a child who is not in the mood for a hike from sitting down on the trail and crying. Why not reward kids for good behavior while hiking and paddling.

What if a bribe is offered, but the child fails to cooperate? No matter how much whining, crying, and pouting you get, if the child has not held up his or her end of the bargain, the reward should absolutely be withheld. Rewards despite bad behavior will only lead to more unpleasant behavior.

2. Stopping often to explore makes kids happy paddlers and hikers


Stopping to Explore.
In this day of video games and cartoons, single focused action (i.e. pushing forward mile after mile) on a hike or paddle can try the best child’s patience. Break up the journey by pointing out wildlife, interesting plants, or wild flowers. Stop often to explore interesting finds.

Let children shoot the camera around and take a few pictures, or peer through the binoculars. If you get near water by all means stop and relax. No kid can resist the opportunity to toss sticks or rocks into the water.  If it’s a warm day, take a break and let the kids splash around.

I get it. You’ve got miles to make. I know it’s frustrating to stop and smell the roses when you're all about pushing on. However, making happy memories will be worth more in hindsight than making miles.

3. Planning what comes next


What did she choose to do next? Climb a tree!
Allow children a chance to help plan the trip. Try to work an activity they are interested in into the trip. If this isn’t possible, let them help plan the snacks and meals. Already in camp? Allow children to help plan the next day, the next camp meals, or find other ways their choices can contribute to group activities. 

Sometimes it is not practical to give a child a blank canvass, but even a small choice that makes a child feel powerful can help ward off a sullen attitude. Do you prefer to tell stories or sing songs around the campfire tonight? Would you like our trail snack to be granola bars or trail mix? Should we hike or paddle tomorrow morning? Do you want to use your paddle or play with your squirt gun in the canoe tomorrow? Would you rather fish or swim?

4. Special privileges when camping, hiking and paddling with kids


Staying up late to enjoy the campfire.
One way to make outings more fun for children is to allow special privileges that are not allowed at home. This needs to fit the temperament and values of the parent and child. In my situation, the special privileges are staying up as late as desired around the campfire, and bringing along a special treat she can choose to indulge in.

Of course, this privilege is right for this particular child as she is the type to end up tired from the day and ask to go to bed the minute it gets dark. She is also the type who doesn't go overboard with treats. Yet, feeling special knowing the special treats and bed time are flexible, while these are scheduled and controlled at home, fosters a feeling of empowerment in camp. 

Another special privilege I’ve used with success is to offer a choice of glow stick or glow bracelet, later using the glow toy as a night light in the tent. When camping with a friend or cousins, it makes my child feel especially important to have glow sticks to offer to others.

Will it create issues down the road if you break the home routine? Only you know the temperament of your child. For us it works. We follow meal time and bed time rules more strictly at home, but relax them in camp. Your good judgment is your best guide.

For more about Rule #1, Attend to Children’s Physical Well-Being, and rule #2, Keep Kids Busy and Engaged, and Rule #4, Kids Need Camp Chores, please check out the tips these posts. That said, today it’s all about Rule #3, keep kids motivated.

Does your child plop down in the middle of the trail and refuse to budge? The first time my normally well-behaved toddler did this it took me by surprise. Walking forward on the trail rather than caving in to the demand helped get her behavior back on track.

What motivational techniques for getting kids to march down the hiking trail have worked for you? 

I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.

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