1. This one is a no-brainer – lots and lots of encouragement and praise!
Try to make the first hike a positive experience for the kids which they would love to repeat. Even if the accomplishments are little and your first few hikes might not be more than a stroll on the neighborhood trails, celebrate them as if they just climbed Mt. Rainier! Positive reinforcement is what will make the little ones come back for more and eventually finish “real” hikes.
2. Entice, okay, bribe them!
Offer them a treat or an award if they make it all the way to the peak or your selected destination. The only condition is that the kids have to earn their treat by finishing the hike all by themselves. No cheating, or carrying, allowed. When my son gets tired, I remind him of the yummy candy he is so close to enjoying, and all of a sudden there comes a burst of energy from somewhere. Works every time!
3. Start a tradition!
Pick a good day for your family’s schedule and try your best to stick to it. Soon, prepping for a hike will be as natural as getting ready for school. Another great way of starting a hiking tradition is to give kids a patch or button after every accomplished hike that they can collect and display with pride. Stickers or print-outs of awards will do, too! With time, you not only have an impressive collection of hiked trails, but also priceless memories of family time well spent.
4. Never, and I mean never, cave in and pick them up!
Instead, take a break and tell them how great they have been doing and how proud you are of your little hiker. Sticking to your guns the first few times will simplify your hiking experience in the future. Soon they won’t even ask any more because they know that being carried is a no-go for a “true” hiker.
5. Provide them with fun gear!
Carrying their own backpack and wearing cool hiking boots does wonders for the confidence. We, adults, know how new, shiny gear can spark excitement about hitting the trail. It’s no surprise the same goes for our mini me’s.
6. Invite other kids (and their parents) along!
Not only is hiking more fun with friends, but it also makes the kids want to show off their new hiking skills. Also, they are less likely to whine and fuss in fear of embarrassing themselves in front of their friends. Killing 2 birds with one stone is what I call that.
7. Distract them with fun!
Make up songs, play games on the trail, tell jokes, or anything else you can come up with to distract them from the actual “work” of hiking. For instance, we came up with a silly marching song that we hum every time it gets a little too monotone on the trail. Anything will do to avoid nagging and whining. I’m sure you hear me on that one 😉
8. Stop and wonder!
Take in all the beauty around you that Mother Nature has to offer. And most importantly, see them through your kids’ eyes! It is too easy to pass by the little flowers on the side of the trail in anticipation of the big waterfall ahead of you. I get it…but it’s just as amazing to pause and enjoy the little beauties. Kids have an advantage on us when it comes to the little things, so we might actually learn a thing or two from them about enjoying the moment. There are plenty of new things to discover on the trail as long as you pay attention. Trust me.
9. Pack a nutritious lunch and call it a picnic!
Hiking can be an exhausting endeavor for little feet. Make sure to bring a lunch and snacks that provide lots of energy, such as a healthy sandwich and fresh fruit. And lots and lots of water! Find a nice sunny spot, preferably with a view, and get comfortable. And don’t forget to “leave no trace” behind and take your trash back with you. Even little hikers live by the motto “Pack it in, pack it out”.
10. And finally, take LOTS of breaks.
We have a fun way of making sure everybody stays hydrated and energetic. Every time we see water, may it be a stream or a big puddle, we drink a sip of water. For the kids it is fun to spot the water and yell “water break”, and adults are just happy that everybody is hydrated. Any time you notice your little one slowing down to a mere snail crawl, I suggest to take a short break. Regenerate and energize with a quick snack and chances are the hike will be more enjoyable afterwards. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination…