The first time I stepped on to trail with Mason I was terrified. I was scared of bugs, sun exposure, smothering my newborn in the awkwardly foreign carrier. I thought I was so tired I would faint on trail or that Mason would cry the whole way and I would panic and not know how to quiet him.
Well, Mason survived babyhood, and is now 4 years old. Technically he’s no longer a toddler. What I have learned over the years from Mason and watching friends with kids is every age age comes with challenges, especially when you are heading out into the unknown and doing something like hiking. The best way to manage getting on trails with kids is just to commit, and then do it. Once you’re out there you’ll be glad you made the effort.
With that in mind here’s the top ten things I have learned that has helped me from babyhood to toddlerdom to the current kid-landia stage.
- Expect the unexpected and don’t panic. You will forget critical things like wipes and of course have a poopy blowout. It’s ok because there was a time when baby wipes didn’t exist. Find a bathroom and clean up with paper towels or find that balled up t-shirt in your trunk and you are set.
- Toddlers love to sit down just as you get going. It never fails. Go with it. Be ready to shift your big plans and find a really cool slug or spider and make that your new focus. The harder you try to push your kid forward, the more likely he will resist.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Need a carrier strap buckled or unbuckled? Stop a stranger on the trail. Most people are more than happy to stop and help a parent with a kid.
- When a tantrum starts be ready for it. I carry secret weapons like suckers or other bribe tools that I only pull out in extreme emergencies. Try to work through the tantrum and if it’s clearly not going to stop and you are trying to move forward it just might be lollypop time.
- If you don’t like a kids behavior they will totally engage in it and then really amp it up just because of that disapproving look on your face. Think about your normal reaction (maybe a raised voice or a threat to go home) and try something new. Start singing a song that your little likes and see if that breaks the pattern.
- Don’t have your heart set on one specific trail. Think of options so if a meltdown is coming, you can cut short and try something easier. I know it’s not fair, but remember you are going to be telling your child that life isn’t fair for the next 15 years, so suck it up yourself this time.
- Go with others when you can. Kids keep kids entertained and on trail. Even if you are not a group hiker normally, look for at least one friend to go with or a nature hike that a park is putting on. A park ranger can really keep a 4 year old occupied and interested on trail.
- Bring lunch for the end of the hike. Even if you have plans to go to lunch or make it home, travel with an extra lunch. There’s nothing worse than a hangry toddler and a hike that just went on longer than you expected.
- Look for trails with interesting features like a bridge or an old abandoned run down cabin. Turn this place into a magical story about a troll under a bridge or a witch’s castle. This will help little kids remember the trail and have a destination that is more tangible than just the end of a trail or a loop that takes them back to a parking lot.
- Remind yourself it’s about the journey, not the destination if you are frustrated. Be prepared for one of those days where you will literally make it a block past the parking lot and then that’s it. Take the time to learn more about the trail, read signs, look around at what other features are on the trail. Get better with your smartphone camera and shoot your shoes. Don’t spend all of your time on your phone, but those slow as molasses hikes are part of it all and remember that there will be a time when your kids doesn’t want to hang out with the parents at all, so cherish these moments with your little ones.
Photo Credit: Ashely D Scheider Photography