Marathon Mom: Benefits of Hiking With Children

marathon momDear Audra,

My husband and I are trying to talk a few of our friends with young toddlers into joining us for some day hikes, but we are meeting a lot of hesitation about how hard it will be with the kids. One couple is insisting their child won’t like it anyway and can’t see why we – or anyone! – would want to hike with such a young child. We have an 18-month-old who we’ve taken hiking since he was 5 months, and all three of us have always had a wonderful time. I’d really like to introduce my friends to this fun, free, and active family activity. Do you have any talking points I could use to help convince them to just try it once?


Hopeful Hiker

Dear Hopeful Hiker,

It is not uncommon for new parents – especially if it’s their first child – to be hesitant about straying from the comfort of home and other familiar places for fear that they will upset the child’s routine and be dealing with negative consequences (most likely, lack of predictable naps – a.k.a. breaks for the parents) for days or weeks afterward. The key to coaching your friends out of their homes and onto the trails may be focusing on the positive effects hiking can have on the whole family – child and adults.

Baby Fat Burn:  Many new mothers’ ears perk up at the mention of losing their baby fat. Perhaps tapping into your friend’s vanity and reminding her how many more calories she’ll burn while carrying a child in a backpack will help her reconsider joining you on a hike. Besides, exercise is best when disguised as something else – like a fun day hike with family and friends!

Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery: Children learn behaviors and habits from those around them, with the parents being the largest influence in those first few years of life. Try pointing out to your friends that simply by joining you on a hike, they are setting a great example for their children that a healthy lifestyle can be fun, creative, and social all at the same time.

Marathon Mom- Benefits of Hiking With ChildrenAppreciating the Small Things: Hiking is a phenomenal sensory activity for children, as babies and young toddlers learn more through their senses than any other way. You didn’t mention how young your friends’ children are, but even a baby being carried in a backpack or a front carrier is exposed to the various colors and scents of the trees, flowers, bark, and other wildlife. If the parents make a point of stopping near different textures, such as leaves, bark, and moss, the child can reach out and experience through touch.  Seeing their children explore and learn never gets old for parents. Plus, focusing on finding and calling attention to these sensory objects also encourages the adults to notice and appreciate more on the hike than they probably would have hiking solo.

If the children are old enough to walk, let them down for a while and follow their lead. Sure, they’ll zig zag far more than walk straight, running from one “cool stick” to the next “awesome rock,” wanting to pick up or touch just about everything, but who can watch such excitement about nature and not be personally inspired? Children have not yet learned to filter or subdue their excitement and, honestly, it’s a beautiful thing adults have every right to be happy watching. Heck, maybe you’ll all be inspired to let loose and join in a bit. After all, you’re in the woods – no one has to know you got super excited about finding a triangular rock.

Say Cheese! Remind your friends that their children are growing exponentially, and the more memories they can make now, the better. Even if their child is too young to remember the hike, the parents will have pictures to look back on forever. Pictures and memories are almost as sweet as living in the moment – and in some cases, even better.

I truly hope you’re able to convince your friends to give family hiking at least one try, as I agree that they will likely be pleasantly surprised. Regardless of what your friends decide to do, keep up the active lifestyle with your own family – you’re making beautiful memories!

By: Audra Rundle