Coping with toddlers on trail can be difficult at best.  In response to my twonager’s antics, I often find myself wanting to channel my own inner toddler and throw a tantrum on the ground. I would love to say that I always override my irrational tendencies and respond perfectly. The fact is though, that I’m human, and I sometimes lose my cool. As usual, adequate preparation is the key to successfully weathering the storm of your mini-me’s making.

However, when we’re outside and experiencing nature, we don’t always have the tools or spaces that we can utilize at home to deal with our pint-sized dictators.  In the end, especially if we’re in the middle of a trail, we must somehow return to the trailhead so we can get back to the car where the yellow truck is hanging out. The yellow truck. Not the blue one you painstakingly clipped to your carrier.

Keeping Toddlers Grounded in Nature

Here are a few of my favorite ideas to keep toddlers moving the direction you want them to go, or at least distracting them from their own sudden and seemingly irreversible anger.

  1. Bubbles may not sound like they go hand in hand with nature. But I’ll tell you what – few things seem to capture toddlers’ attention like multi-sized glistening orbs floating around. Nothing is as satisfying to them as the chase and pop when the bubbles collapse into their sudsy demise. Plus, you can get them super cheap. I love the little wedding bubbles that come in packs of 48 for $5-10 on Amazon. They’re easy to slip into the pocket of a carrier, can be refilled with your own bubble solution, and are so cheap, that you can easily share one with a frazzled caregiver on trail.
  2. Keep them fed, and life is good. Snacks can distract kids of all ages from whatever their current gripe may be. Read this article for snack food ideas (link to http://hikeitbaby.com/intro-to-hiking-feeding-the-family/). I love to clip a snack cup to my Onya’s toy loops; my little guy can easily feed himself while on my back, or it’s easy for me to get to if I need to stuff a goldfish into his mouth.
  3. Make a game out of anything. Kids are inventive and resilient. They also love all things silly, and if you can make them burst into a gale of giggles the stupid yellow truck will be forgotten. Games I love are:
    Can you find the biggest tree on the trail this direction and give it a hug? (My little one loves to hug trees. Score one for mom!)
    Let’s see how many leaves we can collect in the next 10 feet.
    Can you find the biggest rock and stand on it?
  4. Turn it into a race! How fast can you run to that thing? (the next post, the corner, our friends, etc.) Or, simply say “Ready, set, go!” As it turns out, kids love a challenge. Instead of making their personally selected challenge of making you tear your hair out easy on them, turn their challenge-seeking to a behavior that serves your needs. Help them speed their way down the trail.
  5. Take a break. If your kiddo isn’t wanting to go but is interested in counting all of the bugs under a certain rock, or pouring stream water from one hand to another, stop with them for a minute. This can be more difficult if you’re leading a hike, or there aren’t others who want to stop with you. However, part of getting our kids outside and fostering their love and natural curiosity of nature is turning them loose to explore.

Although I said above that the key to success hiking with toddlers is being prepared, sometimes even if I remember to bring distractions, they get left in the car at the trail head. Or sometimes even if you’re physically and mentally prepared to distract an emotionally unstable toddler, they still refuse to cooperate. This is okay too. Every toddler parent has had those days and definitely understands. In the meantime, if your kids are anything like mine, stock up on bubbles and goldfish. They may not work every time, but most of the time they turn our tantrums around and leave him giggling gleefully.

Photo Credit: Deanna Curry of HIB Tacoma

Erin Pennings’ main duty in life is making sure that her sweet, but very busy toddler, Emmett, doesn’t dive head first off the highest thing he can climb. She is also an outdoor advocate, formerly avid traveler, animal lover, and a lifestyle blogger who loves food. Follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @SalmonAtSeven.

2 thoughts on “Keeping Toddlers Grounded in Nature

  • Alana

    Great tips! Going to use some of these on my older ones, too! =)

  • Alana

    Great tips! Going to use some of these on my older ones, too! =)

  • COMMENT ON ARTICLE

More in

10 Tips to raise the next generation of adventurers in a high-tech world

In a society where technology has become commonplace, people sit in restaurants and coffee shops, whether with friends or family, […]

3 Memorable Trails to Explore with Children in Maryland

Whether you’re new to hiking with your baby or toddler, or you’re looking for a new trail to explore, the […]