Camp Tricks

How to Address Kids’ Misbehavior on the Trail

August 2, 2017

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You’re just far enough into the hike to make the trek back impractical when your kids begin acting up. Whether they’re stepping off-trail in sensitive wildlife areas or planting themselves like trees, refusing another step, there’s a whole host of bad behaviors that can ruin your day. Here’s how to get your rowdy young explorers back on track.

Give Them the Opportunity to Succeed
Young ones act out for a reason. If you set them on a task beyond their physical or emotional capacity, you’ll have trouble on your hands. Be aware of their unique abilities before mapping out your route. Remember, they might tire easily or become fatigued without lots of snacks. Consider any sensitivities or fears that might make the journey prohibitive. It’s great to challenge them, but don’t ask more than they can possibly give. Try to avoid problems in the first place by planning a hike that is appropriate for your whole crew.

Give Everyone a Task
Boredom is a huge factor in misbehavior. When everybody on your tiny team has an important task, you all feel you’re pulling together for common good. Help older kids to stay focused by giving them more important tasks, like assistant navigator. Make sure everyone has some responsibility for their own trip, carrying their own water and snacks. You’ll foster independence and increase their investment in making the trip go smoothly.

Be Firm but Sensitive
There’s always a nice way to give directions. Wilderness can be overwhelming, so deliver all expectations in an authoritative yet calm manner. Present yourself as the leader of this little pack and you’ll earn their respect and trust. True leadership never requires empty threats or screaming. If you’re too exasperated for words, take a quick time out until everybody is on the same page. Drink some water, eat a snack, get back to it.

Apply Consequences that Can be Carried Out in the Moment
Sometimes the gentle approach isn’t enough. But if you tell them they’re going to lose privileges at some far off future point, you won’t have the same impact as if you can respond immediately to the behavior. A navigator who refuses to stay on-trail, for example, loses map holding privileges until she can demonstrate she’s ready to take the responsibility seriously. Major misbehavior at the beginning of the trek might result in heading back to camp and performing cleanup chores. Let consequences follow as naturally as possible from the misbehavior to help them make those connections and take control of their behavior.

Always Encourage First
Even if you do need to discipline your young hikers, always use positive messages. As soon as the behavior turns around, congratulate them and move forward. Nobody feels good when the focus of a trip is on poor choices. Give them the tools to make good decisions then give them a high five. Outdoor time is a growth experience for all of us. Your youngest members of the family are no exception.

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