This may sound obvious, but having a family is a lot of work. It’s also a lot of work to get everyone ready to go outside and then actually enjoy it. Some families are composed of children who run laps around their parents in the forest, participate in biking competitions, and can out-swim their parents before they reach their teenage years.
Well, mine isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong! My kiddo has energy and I love and nurturing everything about his beautiful blossoming personality. But, his energy is usually thrown face-first into building with Lego, and more recently, embarking on his own construction projects (literally, his grandpa gave him a real drill and tool set).
It does actually take some motivation to get him to dive into activities that involve running up mountains. This sometimes poses a slight challenge for our very outdoorsy family! I like the challenge, however, and nothing is more satisfying than prying an unwilling child from the couch just to win him over in the outdoors.
The fact that my son can be a little bit of a challenge to motivate has done wonders for my creativity, and for that, little man, I thank you! I’ve had to come up with some really good ideas over the years to help distract him from the fact that… Yes, we are climbing to the top of that mountain… and no, it’s not 5 more feet, it’s 5 more kilometers. Here are are few of my tried-and-true motivating ideas:
1. Get in-tune with nature and make up silly songs
I love singing (but trust me when I say I’m no Mariah Carey), and so does my kiddo. This makes outdoor adventures fun as we make up really funny songs about some of the things that we see. On our most recent backcountry hike, we spent a decent amount of time singing to the wilderness (and conveniently warding off bears, as we learnd from Kim Titchener on our blog and podcast). I was singing about hoping the bears would’t eat us while Lucca thought it was hilarious to sing a serenade in hopes of the bears coming to dangle themselves from the trees in front of us.
2. Create a story or virtual world
This one is a lot of fun, too! My son loves stories (what kid doesn’t?) and he loves thinking about the hypothetical. My favourite topic to date was “design your dream house”. This little imaginative activity took us about two hours and made a hike feel like 5 minutes. To share, this is essentially where my son would live and what his house would look like:
Lucca would live in Antarctica, in a large, 3-story house strategically placed on a very thick portion of the ocean ice. He would have 8 penguins living with him, two of which would sleep with him in his large, multi-bed room (I get to sleep on a single bed in the corner… yay me). He would have a fridge with a tube that went straight into the ice and sucked up nothing but fresh, ready-to-eat fish for the penguins. Side note: Please, Lucca, engineer this for us… you’ll make us millions of dollars.
I could go in to painful detail (we designed all the way down to what the couch cushions would look like), but let me finish off by adding that his vehicle of choice was a hovercraft. He would also cruise around on said hovercraft while “properly” dressed in fleece-lined shorts and his pink Paw-Patrol Crocs.
3. Become closer to nature (without disrupting it)
For the most part, getting creative by singing and using our imaginations is enough. There’s also this amazing thing about hiking, though, and that is the nature around us! There’s so much to do just by being outdoors. We also play eye-spy games to spot funny mushrooms and tiny living beings (like Lucca’s best snail-friend, as pictured). We also try to imagine how a fallen tree got where it was, what is hiding under the bridges we cross, and what kinds of butterflies we might run into. If he tires of that, sometimes we just simply play a game of “don’t touch the roots”, which almost always ends in a giggle fit and a few more minutes closer to our objective.
When motivating doesn't work, bail out, and be proud of it.
People often ask me how I get my kid to hike the things he does. While it does take some motivating, he generally (and genuinely) loves nature and enjoys it.
The most important thing I tell people is that if they’re not having fun, it isn’t worth it anymore. So, like all solid plans, be ready to bail out, turn around, and make a positive decision for your family and your relationship. I know I have, and I’ve never regretted it!
I try to never make my son feel unaccomplished or ashamed, either. Sometimes summits happen and sometimes they don’t. I greatly enjoyed our podcast episode with MJ Singletary-Villalobos on Gentle Parenting. In the episode we hear not to worry about conquering the summit, but to “conquer your relationship.” and, yes, that couldn’t be more true!
If you do succeed... CELEBRATE!
If we head out and do accomplish a hard hike, though, oh man, does Lucca ever know he accomplished something BIG! I feel like that has also helped motivate him. He almost always gets big praise (and ice cream) after a hard day’s work. I do realize that bribery isn’t always the best parenting tactic, but… I do it sometimes. He does keep hitting the trail with us looking for more adventures, though, so I’m going to keep on doing what works for us and our family!
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