My wife is feeling a little under the weather this week, so I decided to flex my awesome husband muscles and sweep in to rescue her for having to write a trip report about our winter hiking excursion to Battle Creek Regional Park. Stayed tuned next week when she has had time to bounce back and be fully charged. Now back to our regularly scheduled nonsense.
I’ve had the idea of writing about this topic for sometime now, and after reading an article about the same thing on Tales of a Mountain Mamaand after our hiking trip last week I decided to chime in with my most valuable two cents. Our son Benjamin is certainly cut from a different cloth. He is kind of an enigma at times to me. Instead of playing with action figures he’ll read a book or put together a 100 piece puzzle 2-3 times in a row to the point where for a challenge he’ll do it upside down. When I was his age it was Star Wars, GI Joe, He-Man, and Transformers (ok, I was a bit older then he is, but for the sake of argument roll with me here). I love to hike, he doesn’t. He loves to camp, he wants to live at the campground for forever, but venturing down the trail is too challenging of an undertaking. His behavior and his choices at times baffle me, how can he be my son and be so like me in some things and so far from me in others? There is one thing we both certainly can agree upon, we both love rewards.
I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for a good rewards program. It makes me shop with you (Thank you Moosejaw.com) buy gas at your stores, and use your cards. I employ the same techniques with my son to get him hiking, and luckily like me, he can be bought easily.
We use rewards on the trail, to the trail, at the campsite, on vacations, anywhere we need to go and enjoy our time
together without setting off a full nuclear meltdown. I have found that dealing with a 5 yr old child is like training a dog at times (again…just roll with me I’m making a great point here). When I trained my dog I used clicker training. I bought a cheap device that made an audible sound (a click…hence the name) and stood in front of her hiding the clicker. In the other hand I had treats galore. I first “charged” the clicker by giving out treats with every click. I associate the sound with the yummy goodness her belly desired. After “charging” it several time the training began, and I marked the behavior that I wanted her to display by hitting the clicker when she performed it. This ensured I marked the right behavior instead of the wrong. I use this similar technique with my son. Until he is old enough to appreciate the outdoors and our adventures for what they are, I use a rewards program that gives him incentive to get out and not to complain. As maturity comes the rewards will eventually disappear but in his memory will be the wonderful times that we hiked, climbed, camped, went snowshoeing, skied, etc. The rewards help him to associate in his young mind, our adventurers with fun and goodness on a level he can be excited about.
The Rewards We Use
When we decide what to get our son to reward him for great behavior we never get anything too extra ordinary. On the trail we carry “energy beans” to help him hike hard and far. These are simply Jelly Bellies. He gets 1-2 per half hour/hour and the placebo affect helps him conquer the next section of the trail. WARNING your intelligent children will eventually learn how to work the system. My son now tells me that he can’t go any farther unless he has a bean…..slick, but it keeps him going.
We also use gear to get him excited. As disclosure let me say that it is clothes, packs, boots, etc that we would have bought him anyways, but we use the new stuff as a ‘reward’ leading up to a vacation or big family expedition. This only happens once a year but the effect lasts a few outings. This year we’re rewarding him with a Osprey Zip 25 backpack. We’re going to RMNP and I want him to be able to carry his rainshell and have access to as much water as he needs, but again….he doesn’t know this!
One of the last things we use as a reward are trinkets and ice cream. Gift shops with the super cheap trinkets (compass, magnifying glass, books, etc) make great rewards. He’ll usually get to pick out two if his attitude is nice, one for his help and behavior in the campground, and one for hiking. We refer to them as his Jr. Hiker and Jr. Camper prizes and it’s the last big highlight before the trip ends. Almost two years later he still has both of his prizes from our Yellowstone trip. This year, since he’ll be old enough, we’re doing the Jr. Ranger program which means a special badge.
There are many other ways to get your children excited about getting outside. In a later post I’ll talk about a few more ideas you can use to get your children excited about hiking, camping, canoeing, or whatever outdoor recreation you undertake. What reward works best for you and your child?
So until next time…..Adventure On!