Being active with our children matters a great deal to my spouse and I; our most cherished memories with our family have largely taken place outside. While we deeply value time in nature, the effort it takes to get two small children and an overly eager dog out the door for the activities we love can feel downright overwhelming. All winter long I made jokes about how our children’s gloves were conspiring against us – how is someone’s glove ALWAYS missing? When I feel myself sinking into the sense of dread that comes with the preparations needed to get our family out the door, I try to focus on our last outing and the memories etched in my mind of my oldest making snow angels or our toddler laughing as the wind blew through her wispy hair. I also remind myself that everyone will feel better after we get our wiggles out and breathe fresh air, which helps me press on and find that missing glove!
We have learned to scale back our ambitious plans for all-day hikes that our pre-kid life might have included. Now we focus on activities that let us all be active, even if that means just going for a walk in our neighborhood or biking on a quiet Forest Service road. We live close enough to our school that we walk or ride bikes a few days a week, which is nice way for everyone to ease into the day and decompress on the route home. When we go on more adventurous outings we give our kids the chance to try a bit on their own and have a fallback plan for when their endurance runs out – like a backpack for the little one or on-the-fly scavenger hunts to keep our older child motivated.
Planning for hunger, thirst, weather changes, diaper blowouts, and lost gloves takes effort, but after every activity we do outside we come away feeling more connected as a family and calm in our bodies.
For parents of young kids who want to be more active as a family but find the whole endeavor overwhelming I recommend you:
- Keep it simple. Kids find magic in jumping in muddy puddles outside your apartment or sliding down the pile of snow you just created digging out your car, so don’t feel like you have to hike to some new vista or log your personal best speed on your bike.
- Take a mental snapshot by checking in with your five primary senses: feel the warm sun on your arms, notice the vanilla smell of the pine trees nearby, listen to your little one’s cheerful singing, cherish the puffy clouds and blue sky, and savor the lingering flavor of those great snacks you remembered to pack!
- Check in afterwards with everyone to hear what they want to remember about the outing – you might be surprised by what your kids noticed that you didn’t even register! The process of checking in afterwards also helps reinforce the benefit of the activity and makes us feel less overwhelmed the next time we are trying to get out the door.
- Remember there will be challenges – and that is a good thing! Our kids learn so much more about themselves when they have to overcome something difficult than they do when everything is taken care of for them. Give them praise for trying hard and doing their best.
Written by Lindsey Overstreet, LCSW