I didn’t enjoy family walks as a child. There seemed to be nothing more boring than walking in a straight line for hours on end. I’m sure I spent a lot of the time moaning and whining, and being left behind as my parents were caught in a power struggle with me refusing to move.
I’m pretty sure it was these memories that made me reluctant to inflict the same thing on my own daughter. And yet all around me parents were happily going off on hikes with their children. We live in a small village surrounded by hills and forest, and on the weekends the place is filled with families happily hiking.
I can remember when my daughter was 2 years old we went for a lovely walk along a coastal path in Scotland. There were three older children who all had great fun taking care of her along the way, and she walked almost non-stop for about 4 hours! That gave me an indication of how long kids can walk if they feel in the mood for it!
As I’ve learnt more about children’s emotions, I’ve learnt that hiking can not only be fun for kids, it can also be like therapy. Here’s why:
It was something that Ariadne Brill of Positive Parenting Connection said that made me realise what was going on when my daughter complained about walking. She told me how she began to realise that the movement of walking was causing emotions to rise to the surface in her kids and then they began telling her about them.
When our children start moaning about how tired they are, and how they don’t want to walk any further, and how they hate walking, we can take their words at face value, perhaps they really are overtired.
But often, what’s happening is something called the The Broken Cookie Phenomenon. When children’s feelings bubble up, and they can’t think straight. The part of their brain responsible for rational thinking and language, literally doesn’t function well when children (and adults!) are upset. This means they may not be able to articulate the real reason they are upset in the moment, and so they’ll tend to pin it on the nearest thing: i.e the walking.
When my daughter started Kindergarten she really liked to have lazy afternoons at home. But after a while I began to think that although she needed less stimulus in the afternoon she might need some physical exercise. She’s always been a night owl and took a long time to wind down for sleep. I was having to wake her each morning. I really wanted her to wake naturally so her body could get all the sleep she needed.
After reading this article about sleep from Dr. Laura Markham I thought an afternoon walk might tire her out.
My daughter didn’t like the idea of a walk but somehow we got into a roleplay with her doll Kira, and her mum Avinda. Kira kept complaining that she didn’t want to go for a walk, while Avinda told her she would have to as it would help her sleep. Somehow we managed to get out of the house with my daughter projecting her reluctance onto career instead.
After a few minutes of walking though, my daughter began crying. I staylistened to her, stopping walking, and getting down on her level. I acknowledged her feelings, and told her we’d try to go a little further, and that I was sure she could do it. After a few minutes of crying, she asked for me to pretend Kira didn’t want to walk. We had a lot of fun and laughter (The Hand in Hand Parenting tool of playlistening) with Kira landing on the ground and refusing to go any further.
We ended up walking up a hill and down again at which point my daughter said, ”this walk has given me more energy!”
The next time we went hiking my daughter also cried and was reluctant for the first 20 minutes. I just kept listening to her, and sure enough, after the tears were over she was filled with energy and happy and enthusiastic about her hike.
These days when I suggest a hike my daughter is happy and excited. I think she’s gone through the process enough times to realise that if any upset feelings come up she will get through it with my empathy and listening, and end up having a great time. We always bring along her dolls and pack a few snacks.
We are the best judge of our children. We can learn their limits and energy levels. And we can also learn to see through their lethargic moments, and use a ‘listening hike’ as a way to help their bodies and minds feel better.
If you’re looking for some playful ways to help children with their feelings about walking check out 15 Playful Ways To Get Children To Walk
And if you’d like to learn more about The Broken-Cookie Phenomenon and how children need our listening to process their emotions check out my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children