Thursday, September 27, 2018

How To Take Your Kids Hiking (And Not Regret It!)

Recently, I've received a lot of comments regarding pictures I have posted about our kids on various hikes and trails in the Colorado mountains. The predominant question concerns how the heck we get all four of our kids to hike a trail with decent length and elevation gain. The answer is simple for the youngest two: Daniel and Lucy are almost always carried, whether in a Kelty backpack or an Ergobaby carrier. They're comfortable for them so there is relatively little complaint from them. We just have to stop usually once per hike to feed Daniel - and I've breastfed him while hiking at various times - but normally we are able to make it to the summit before he really requires a feeding. Lucy, on the other hand, is completely happy being carried for 75% of any given trail but also willingly will hike a good portion of it. She's a very good sport.

Matthew, our energetic 8-year-old, is actually quite a fantastic hiker. He can be a bit clumsy, so sometimes I worry about him on looser rock, but for the most part, as long as we have plenty of water, he can keep up with me and Paul without issue or complaint. In fact, we are already planning on taking him on a couple 14ers (Mount Bierstadt, Torreys, and Grays Peak) next spring and I don't imagine that he will have any issue making those ascents with us.

So, that takes care of three out of the four miniatures, leaving the lone, major hangup of all our hiking journeys in the form of our daughter Emma. Unlike her other three siblings, Emma is incredibly difficult to encourage and rally during a hike because the very point of her existence at this point in time is to whine, squeal, and make life a bit less enjoyable for her parents. The ironic thing is that her whining never stems from a lack of energy on her part. On the contrary, she is extremely agile and possesses great endurance. She just doesn't like to employ her skills on demand.

We have learned a few tips and tricks about hiking with the kids that have made our family hikes a bit more enjoyable. I'm not going to lie, the first couple we took were a bit brutal due to Emma's endless whining. No amount of beautiful scenery can make up for that irritation. However, since then, we have managed to get away with actually enjoying our hikes 100% from start to finish using a couple tricks. These might seem obvious to some, but bear with me. Paul and I are not the sharpest tools in the shed when it comes to parenting.

1. Bribe your kids! Paul and I often get the kiddos pumped up for the hike with promise of a pizza dinner afterwards or a fun snack at the top. One of the greatest ideas we ever had was to start packing some popsicles for the summit! We stuff popsicles in a freezer bag with a bunch of ice and a little coarse salt and then put that in a small insulated lunch bag. Keeps them perfectly frozen for quite a few hours! The promise of a cool, refreshing treat at the top works on Emma every single time.

2. Make sure the kids have decent shoes for the terrain.  As a general rule of thumb, if their sneakers have a Disney character printed on the side, the quality is probably questionable. Good shoes with decent grip make a world of difference.

3. Choose trails with destinations. The kids love hiking to waterfalls, glaciers, or mountain tops with some neat rock formations that they can scale once they reach the top. The promise of these locations is often enough to rally a withering Emma to continue onward and upward. I think they enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching a destination just as much as we do!

4. Be sure to have some fun and engaging conversations along the way. On our most recent hike, I spent the majority of the final 2.5 miles teaching Emma the lyrics to "The Big Bang Theory" by the Barenaked Ladies. It provided a nice distraction for her and we got to sing a fun song as we went along. We also had a huge family debate about our favorite sushi that lasted over an hour on one of our hikes which was an interesting discussion that the kids heavily participated in despite never having actually eaten any sushi. The point is, engaging the kids with songs, stories, or conversations makes the hike more enjoyable for all and distracts them from the temptation to whine.

5. Try to prevent stumbles and falls as much as humanely possible. If one of the kids trip and fall, it's a major setback to the entire outing. Our kids are super dramatic about injuries. Not sure if that's typical, but normally even the most benign of injuries results in much wailing, crying, and demands for latex bandages to contain the invisible gushing of blood. Holding hands to with the kids, while irritating and a bit straining on the arm, can really help increase confidence, especially when scurrying over tricky rocks or climbing up areas with loose gravel. Lucy often refuses to hold hands, but Emma almost requires it just to move.

6. Compliment the kids on their progress down the trail! My kids love to be praised - with extreme detail if possible. Emma will openly display a bit more pep in her step if I tell her what a great hiker she is. "She scaled that rock like a champ!" "Hiking expert coming through!" "Next stop - - Mount Everest!"

7. Do not get frustrated with the frequent stops kids sometimes require. Sometimes it feels as if we can't get our groove going with a hike. We seem to stop almost constantly because something went wrong with one of the kids (or the dog). A shoelace will suddenly need to be tied. A minute later, Matthew needs to find a tree to pee on. A minute after that, Emma needs a drink of water. Another 30 seconds after that, Daniel needs to be removed from the pack to nurse while we walk. Two minutes after that, Peyton gets all tangled up in his leash and Matthew needs help untangling him. This is followed by another stop for water since the 10 feet we traveled in the last 5 minutes was super exhausting and dehydrating for all the children. Then Daniel finishes eating and needs to be put back into his carrier properly. Then comes another bathroom stop for Matthew almost immediately followed by Daniel spitting up everything he just ate all over me. You get the picture and are probably wondering how the heck this is enjoyable. Trust me, eventually everyone settles into a groove and we are actually able to cover some ground. Just not as quickly as I would like to. But that's ok. As Paul has to continually remind me, the whole point of the outing is to spend some quality time together out in nature, marveling at God's creation. This tees into my final point...

8. Be prepared and resigned to the fact that you might not complete the entire trail - and be at peace about it! This has in all honestly been the most difficult part about hiking with the kids for me. When we first set out, I always want to make it through the entirety of the trail. I have major FOMO when it comes to experiencing the beauty of nature and I always want to see and immerse myself in more of it. However, the kids honestly cannot swing the long, exhaustive hikes that I enjoy and we certainly do not want them to view our family hikes as mini-death marches. Our average with them is between 4 and 5 miles, sometimes shorter depending on the difficulty of the climb.

9. Just get out and do it. Sometimes the thought of all the preparation it takes to get all the little people out and hiking can be daunting. However, despite all the frustration that can come with it, I don't think we have ever regretted a single hiking trip with the kids. We all normally feel great once we have finished the trail and - wait for it - we have actually had the kids voluntarily thank us for taking them. A shell shocker at times considering how many times they whined along the way. But truth be told, I do think they legitimately enjoy it and the challenge of a hike is just plain good for their character development. Overcoming the obstacles that come with the physical demands of the outing can be rewarding and fulfilling in ways that even kids at a very young age can grasp and appreciate. I also believe it fosters their determination and fortitude, something that will prove beneficial to them in all areas of life. Not to mention, I truly believe promoting an appreciation for the natural beauty of the world is vital to healthy child development.

10. It's really bugging me that I don't have a 10th point. I guess I could also point out that wildlife sightings are big motivators for continued hikes. Look who we spotted on our hike last weekend.

In summary, the whole point of this long-winded post is that no matter the difficulties, get out there and HIKE!

1 comment:

  1. I love that you do so much hiking with the kids! The extent of ours here is Franke Park? Hahaha, so Luke tolerates the ~1 mile just fine.