Dad knowledge

Confession: getting kids outdoors can be a nightmare

Getting kids outdoors

Getting kids outdoors regularly is seriously hard work. Sometimes it takes hours just to leave the house, and even then your trip often decides into tantrum hell. So why do we do it to ourselves?

My advice is to ignore all the celebrities, Instagrammers and family bloggers (hello 👋) out there who portray an image that makes it look like getting kids outdoors the easiest thing in the world. We’re all struggling, but maybe some of us are just better at hiding it.

After just less than three years as a parent, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re never going to convince a young kid to enjoy something they don’t want to do. No matter how exciting you think that activity may be or how desperate you are for them have a great time doing it, they may simply hate it. Sure, you can probably make them do it eventually, but if they aren’t up for it from the start then it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Before my son was born I honestly believed I was going to raise a kid who jumped out of bed every morning, threw open the curtains, bounded downstairs and burst through the front door ready to immerse himself in nature every day. I was a naive fool!

Don’t get me wrong, Sonny really does love being outside. He’s an extremely energetic toddler who loves running, jumping, splashing, digging, cycling, swimming, kicking footballs and crashing into anything within reach. But he also loves all the other things that every kid loves.

He likes playing with his toys, eating his own body weight in ice cream, reading books, watching TV, going to soft play centres, and messing about with the iPad. And the more I think about, it would probably be weirder if he didn’t.    

We spend a lot of time outdoors as a family – cycling, canoeing, hiking, den building, camping etc – but I’d be lying if I said we do it all the time. Sometimes actually convincing Sonny to set one foot outside the house can be tricky, or even impossible. It isn’t that he doesn’t like it once he gets there, more that he just doesn’t want to be dragged away from what he was doing in the first place. Just try convincing him to stop watching the latest episode of Paw Patrol, driving his toy bin lorry around the house, or smashing everything to pieces playing Hungry Hippos, to come and walk the dog with me in the rain.

But the more I’ve watched him have tantrums in the hallway and lie kicking and screaming by the front door as I try to crowbar his arms into a coat, I’ve realised this is totally normal behaviour for a kid his age. The more I speak to other parents about it, the more I realise we most definitely aren’t alone. In fact we’re lucky. Sonny has a genuine love of being outdoors (I think) that I hope will grow into a lifelong passion. But I’ve also realised that I can’t force it.

All we can do as a family is open the door for him, show him what’s out there, let him experience little bits of everything that we love doing, and hope he chooses the same path as we took. I used to beat myself up if we didn’t get outside as a family and do something I thought was worthy and exciting every single day, but now I realise it doesn’t need to be like that.

Sometimes it feels easier to just stay indoors rather than cope with another toddler tantrum, and sometimes it definitely is the right decision to do that, but I still believe that making the effort and continually showing your children what’s beyond the front door is a huge part of our jobs as parents.

More than anything, I just want to say to other parents: “Don’t believe the bullshit”. We all like to project the perfect image of ourselves, and make out like we’re more pure and adventurous than every other family out there. But realistically we’re all in the same boat.

Ultimately, the kids will tell us what they like doing, and we won’t be able to change their minds. We just have to show them the world and what they can do in it, then hope for the best!    

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