If you’ve followed our Instagram or watched our Youtube, you’ll have undoubtedly seen us tackle some absolute monster hikes, including the MacMicking Pool in the Kimberley which was a whopping 10 hour, 7 km, class 5 scramble, all with our three and five-year-old in tow.
Being able to do these hikes as a family certainly wasn’t a case of luck in the genetic lottery or just winging it (which is very much our usual style). Getting the kids into bushwalking and enjoying the experience of a hike has been a carefully thought-out strategy to ensure that our hobbies and passions aren’t put on the back burner.
A year before we left on our adventures, we were daydreaming of the outdoors and the places we wanted to go. We realised that our boys were flat out walking from the kitchen to the car without complaining that they were tired or hungry. Determined not to miss out on seeing some of our country’s most amazing places because we had small children, we made a plan. Some would call it bribery and manipulation, but I’m sticking with the word plan.
We started to talk to our sons about our travel plans and showed them Instagram photos of the places we wanted to see to get them excited and motivated. We explained that we would have to practice our hiking skills to see many of them. We lived in Canberra near Mt Taylor, about a 1-hour hike without kids. We set a family goal that any spare weekend or afternoon we could, we’d go for a walk to the top. Hahahaha how deluded we were.
The first time we didn’t even make it 500m from the car before the whinging began. ‘It’s too hot, I’m hungry, sweat is itching my forehead’ (and that was from the hubby…just kidding). This is a pivotal moment in the journey to get your kids to love hiking: First impressions count!!!! So we high-fived him and told him we were so proud of him for making it to the base. We marked where we made it to and set a goal (see that tree up there) for our next visit. All the way home, we pumped them up with how hard that 500m walk was and that with a bit more practice, we could make it to the tree. Open the front door and get yourself a much-needed and earned glass of wine. We promise it gets easier.
The second time, we made it to the tree and lept around like 4-year-olds. Then we kept walking to see how far we could get. The trick is to call it before they crack it (let’s face it, it’s inevitable at some point). Here we praised them on how much growth and determination they had shown. When we got home, they got a small reward (pretty sure it was a sticker) for giving it a go, for reaching their goal, and for being the best company on such a long and tricky walk, reinforcing the right attitude rather than skill. Rinse and repeat until you make it to the top.
I cannot describe how proud our little man was when he finally reached the top on his fourth attempt. He was beyond excited and filled with endorphins. We made sure we linked that feeling with the effort he had put in. Effort = reward.
From there, we continued the same hike until not only was it inside his comfort zone, it was easy and fun. Before long, he became the leader and started to set a cracking pace. He knew when he could leap and run and when he had to save energy for the pinch at the top. Then we started on other hikes and trails around our home. We began to see how fast we could do it to encourage not getting distracted and stopping to pick up every ‘special rock’ or stick along the way. This is something we are still working on; if you’ve found a solution, please hit up any of our socials and share your secrets with us.
The right attitude
Attitude is more important than ability. Give me a travel buddy who is happy and slow over someone fast and whiny any day!!! And building resilience and perseverance is critical not only for hiking but any challenges life throws their way.
When hiking, we channel our inner Miss Honey and praise them any chance we get. If they’re not whinging, we tell them what fantastic company they are and reinforce how much we enjoy spending time together as a family. The most effective praise is timely and specific. Some examples to give you the idea might be to praise them for reaching milestones along the way. If they fall over, praise them for overcoming the challenge and showing resilience when things are difficult. We often say something along the lines of “I’m so proud of you for not giving up on those steps, even I found them challenging.” All kids love hearing praise.
Sometimes it will be hot along the trail, your kids are over it, and they proclaim they can go no further. This is when you use the oldest parenting trick in the book…bribery. Or for more politically correct parents…rewards.
There are two types of rewards: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic rewards are things you can see and touch like lollies, stickers, special privileges, etc. Intrinsic rewards are the feel-good vibes you get on the inside, like being proud of yourself, the warm fuzzies.
In an ideal world, intrinsic rewards are what you’re going for. This develops a positive mindset that encourages self-love, resilience and the ability to overcome adversity. In our experience, the best way to foster this is to model it and verbalise it often. Explain your thought processes aloud, e.g. I’m so proud of myself for persevering with this even though it was hard because now I get to enjoy this beautiful view. How do you feel? I love the feeling of standing here looking at the view, knowing that I made it here by myself. You must be so proud of yourself too. I want to be better at this so that one day I can go on overnight hikes. Imagine how much fun that would be. I’m so proud of myself for not giving up when it was hard. If you verbalise this positive internal thought process it’ll gradually rub off on them.
Sometimes on a hike (usually when you’re at the furthest distance from home), everything gets too hard for little ones. In come the extrinsic rewards. We use lollies because our kids don’t ever get them unless it’s someone’s birthday, and they are a great little sugar hit to give you and them a burst of energy. It’s actually kind of scary how much further or faster our kids will walk if there is a lolly on the line. Dried apricots are a healthier alternative if you’re not into lollies. It’s essential to find something that works for you and will motivate your child to push through. Whatever reward you choose, make sure it’s also manageable to carry along the hike with you. Don’t use something like ‘when we get back, you can have … ‘ because kids live in the moment, and they are much more likely to put the effort in for the lolly they can see than the prospect of a later reward. I don’t know how many kilometres, exactly, lollies have helped motivate our kids along, but it’s dozens, at least, and I am pretty partial to a red frog.
To be honest, most of the time on trails, we chat, take photos of the pretty flowers and marvel at the diversity of the landscape, but we also have a list of our favourite games to play when hiking for when the hill is steep, the weather is hot, or the kids have had enough. Sometimes games are all they need to distract them from the effort they are exerting.
Lastly, please don’t underestimate your kids. They are often capable of way more than you think. If the going gets tough, take ample rest, and if you feel that it’s not safe, trust your instincts and head back, knowing that you’ve spent some quality time as a family enjoying nature.
Enjoy those dirt trails. Hopefully, one day our paths will cross.