Motivating Kids to Hike
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Taking a hike with children is a rewarding experience for parents. Children will point out the most mundane things in nature and find them fascinating. Hopefully you will find these things just as entertaining because the pace of which you travel with children is painfully slow. So what do you do when your child plops down on the ground refusing to go any further? When they are young, this is when you throw them into a child carrier and keep moving. Now that they are too heavy to carry, a few tricks will be needed to further your progress up to that mountain lake.
First off, don't give up. Conditioning kids that the trip is over based on their decision will have real consequences later. The trip ends when you say it does, that's just the way it goes. I may play hardball on continuing on but I have no shame in buying them off. The promise of an ice cream cone on the trip home will go a long way if it's contingent on them "doing a good job" hiking. But, you must keep your promises. Always stop on the way home so a tradition and pattern is set. The hardest thing you'll have to do is if they won't cooperate on the trip you must explain they get nothing and follow through with that promise. I've yet had to do it more than the one time. Another successful tactic is to just pack their favorite treats in your pack. Reward them and promise more rewards at the next break in 10 minutes.
My other two suggestions are to be done before the hike begins. First, purchase a small kids backpack for them to use during the hike. Let them decide what they want to carry. Chances are it will be food. The pack makes them feel more engaged and in control. Recently my son pretends his sticker book is a map, he pulls it out at key moments to find his way. The second pre-trip activity is to start talking about the hike a few days before. Tell them "we are going on a hike on Saturday". Do whatever works to get them excited. Kids over 5 seem to respond well to knowing in advance and preparing themselves mentally for the challenge ahead.
These are a few of my suggestions. Every child responds differently to each tactic. It will take time to learn which works well for your little ones. The most important thing is to just get out there and start trying...especially if you start them young. Do your best to be relaxed, have fun and don't give up too soon, they can make it.