Spreading the joy of outside and getting your kids to love it as much as you do...

by - 8:59 PM

One of my favorite pictures of my youngest on a playful trip to theArnold Arboretum in Boston with the beloved "Ginger" our Peurto Rican Basset Hound

I am not feeling this because of how delightful my indoor environment is, but because I just came in from a bike ride with my 11-year-old. Anyone who has kids knows how hard this can be to do – getting kids outside.

And, it seems it gets harder and harder as they get older. When you lead an active life it is curious to see your own children choosing the glow of electronics rather than the glow of the outdoors. I think that if I were a child today I might be depressed from all the sitting around because watching them sit around makes me depressed. I worry how this sedentary lifestyle will affect their future health as adults or their ability to focus now as students.  I don't even need to mention how bad sedentary behavior can be for kids with ADD or AdHD, which includes two of my three, because of the prevalence of the reporting on the disorder nowadays

I know you have to pick your battles and I do, because this is one I often lose.  But, just because there are few victories doesn't mean I should quit trying. It’s a little like hiding vegetables in their food when they were little. You hope they don’t notice what you are doing and eat everything off of their plates while they are telling you how good it was. In parenting it’s the small victories that keep you going.

Over the years I've learned a few things to get them up and moving:
  1. Temper the activity for the child – When my oldest son was younger he was a big reader and loved to read about nature. My husband and I would get him out on bike rides through the woods and would slow down to point out all the things that were of interest to him. If the interest was duckweed, then we rode to the pond that was covered in it. It opened up the natural world to him and taught him to explore. He now takes off on his own to ride his mountain bike through the woods and has built-in “muscle memory” from the joy he gets out of the activity.  My youngest loves lists, keeping track of things and is really into technology so, on our bike ride I would tell him how fast we were riding and how far we had gone, he loves those details. 
  2. Be flexible – As in other parenting moments, flexibility is your friend. If your child tells you they would rather go for a hike than cross country skiing when you would really rather ski because Mother Nature dropped several inches of new snow, go for a shorter ski yourself and save the bigger part of the day for the hike.
  3. Don’t get grumpy about it – It’s easy to get into arguments over what you “think” they should be doing but if you push too hard it may make them pull back harder. If it makes you grumpy to see them on the couch remember, these are your emotions, the best revenge is to get some fresh air yourself. You will come back happier, fresher from the exercise and you’ve set a great example by getting yourself moving.  And, at the very least modeling good behaviors is a part of parenting too!
  4. Sneaky rewards – When my youngest started wrinkling his nose this afternoon at my suggestion of a walk or a bike ride, I mentioned that we could stop for a snack, naming a few of his favorite places along the bike path we live on. When he jumped on it I let him choose the place giving him some control over the decision to get out. And, you don’t have to spend any money if you don’t want to, you can let them pick a movie to watch together later, pick a game to play or let them pack a special lunch or snack for a picnic stop. A picnic can be a good way to give them a rest too.  So, just try something and see if it works, if it does you've just added to your arsenal of parenting tricks.
  5. Don’t discount the everyday expedition – Next time you have to pick your child up at a friends house walk over to get them rather than getting into the car. Marvel at the moon on the way home or point out the birds that you hear or see. I once had a hilarious argument with my eleven year old over whether the red bird we saw was a cardinal or a robin as he insisted.
  6. You'll win and you will lose - So what!  But do keep trying!
So I am feeling pretty good about getting my kid out on a 38-degree day. We both came home with smiles on our faces, we had ridden 8 miles chatting the whole time and I know that we will both sleep better because of it.

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