Hiking is often the first outdoor activity people get back into after becoming parents, myself included. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the easiest one – especially not if you’re dealing with a tantrum-prone child. These tips can help when you go hiking with toddlers!
I’ve hiked with my daughters since they were a few weeks old. With my firstborn, the Big Naturalist, it was a piece of cake. I secured her in the baby wrap, put on my hiking boots, loaded up the dogs in the car, and off we went. She took naturally to the outdoors and loved coming on hikes. After she outgrew the baby carrier she started riding in a back carrier and then finally, at age two, she started walking considerable distances in somewhat difficult terrain by herself. She happily followed the dogs along the trail, fearlessly scaled rocky hillsides and kept up with me without complaining (most of the time).
I congratulated myself for succeeding in raising such an outdoorsy child and being able to continue my pre-baby lifestyle, which very much revolved around hiking and staying active in nature. Then I had another baby.
I raised the Little Naturalist the same way as I had raised the Big Naturalist. She napped outside in her stroller every day, went on hikes in the baby wrap and carrier, and played outside daily. But around the time she became verbal, it became clear that she didn’t seem to share the rest of the family’s love for the outdoors, especially in the fall and winter. She threw tantrums when I tried to put her boots on. She threw tantrums when I tried to take them off. She threw tantrums in the carrier. She threw tantrums when I let her to walk by herself. She threw tantrums for the sake of throwing tantrums and screamed that she wanted to go inside. Epic fail for outdoorsy mom.
I was starting to wonder if this was a battle I was going to lose. Maybe I should just throw in the towel and go inside? Put her in front of a dinosaur movie and be done with the whole spending-time-in-nature thing for a while. But instead I decided to get creative. I started to think about ways to make hiking with toddlers more fun and have gradually been able to get the Little Naturalist on board. These are some things that have worked for us:
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If your child really isn’t into the outdoorsy thing, you’ll probably have a greater chance of success with several shorter hikes than a really long one. If not, you’re at least closer to home in case of a meltdown.
- Let your child take the lead. If she’s more interested in looking at an ant colony or playing with the pretty leaves on the ground than making it to the next mile marker, so be it. It may take you two hours to walk a mile but at least you’re outside having fun.
- Try to find trails that have a lot of varying terrain that encourages adventure and imaginative play. Rock formations, board walks, ladders, fallen logs and bridges have been big hits with both of my girls.
- Seek out creeks, rivers or other bodies of water. Playing with water is an essential part of childhood and if hiking means more of it my girls are always game.
- Bring a picnic! Interestingly enough, the Little Naturalist started to seem a lot more interested in going for walks if hot chocolate, fruit and cookies on a blanket were in the cards.
- If you have dogs, use them to make things exciting for the kids. For my girls a game of fetch or hide and seek with our labs along the trail breaks up the walking, and the dogs love it too!
- Last but not least, make sure your child is dressed for the elements. Nothing about the outdoors is fun if you’re cold. Check out this post about how to layer effectively in cold weather.
At age two and a half, the Little Naturalist still wants carried around a lot and being the youngest, she usually gets away with it. But she seems more contented, our hikes are getting longer, and she rarely asks to go inside. Which leads me to believe that although I have lost a few battles I may be well on my way to winning the war.