Help! My kid doesn’t like to be outside!

We spend a lot of time here at Tales of a Mountain Mama talking about all the benefits of getting outside and how it makes kids (and Mamas!) happier in general.  While we definitely still stand beside that point, we know there are kids out there that would much rather spend time inside. In fact, we get a lot of questions from parents about what to do when their kid doesn’t like to be outside.

But when you want to foster a love of the outdoors, what do you do when your kid doesn’t like to be outside AT ALL?

Sure, there is going to be an occasional (or, let’s be honest, daily) kid meltdown at times (seems that it comes with the territory of parenting). And yes, there will often be complaining and grumbling about being outside (when they have a MILLION other things they would rather do inside). 

But how do you foster a love of the outdoors in your kids without the stress of full-on meltdowns and constant complaints? While there are always going to be challenges to getting outdoors with your kids at times, there has to be an answer! 

After years of learning from other outdoor mamas, here are some of our favorite tips!

1. Join them, don’t force them.

Kicking kids out the door is not the answer (at least not all the time.) While kids/parents benefit from some away time (hey, sometimes that floor just HAS to get mopped!), the example you set of getting your child outside is a huge priority. 

If they don’t see you making an effort and loving it, there is no reason for them to even try. Show them just how much fun it is to play outside, no matter the outdoor activity!

2. Get the right gear.

While we are not telling you to go out and spend hundreds of dollars, just take note of what might be making them miserable outside and see if there is some gear that could help solve that problem! 

Are they bored on the trail? Try getting some fun hiking gear like backpacks or trekking poles.

If it is snowing and your kid is soaking wet and cold, they are not going to be having fun. Check out some of our favorite winter gear that will help make it more comfortable for your little ones!

Take some time to observe your child and brainstorm to see if there is an easy solution like that!

3. Adjust your expectations and have patience!

Sometimes it just takes a little more time for certain kids to start enjoying the outdoors. If you are going into an outdoor activity expecting a certain outcome, more times than not, you (and your child) will be frustrated in the end. 

Start with small goals and work up to bigger ones with time! Try a short stroll in the park before attempting a long hike in the mountains. 

Let them take breaks as needed. Go a little bit further each time and before you know it, they will be hiking miles! 

It may take a year (or more) to work up to your goal, but be patient and don’t make it a negative experience for your child, or it will only make matters worse. Celebrate the small victories and remember to have patience when things don’t go as planned!

4. Schedule it into your day.

Make going outside a normal part of your routine. Find what works best for your family! Does right after breakfast work best? What about when you get home from work? Or maybe an after dinner walk or bike ride through the neighborhood? 

Go outside more if you can, but at least do the minimum (we say 15 minutes around here) during those times. You will find as the kids get older, that the different times of day will change, but ALWAYS make it a priority! 

5. Make it a FUN experience!

Who doesn’t like to have fun along the way?!? 

Come up with some scavenger hunts to do on the hiking trail. Play follow the leader. Sing some fun outdoorsy songs (“Happy Trails,” “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain”…be creative!) 

Do they dread camping? Get them a headlamp or special flashlight to use when camping. And be sure to pack some of their favorite card games to play while you are there as well!

Are they fascinated by bugs? Bring along some bug catchers and nets when you are playing outside. Try to incorporate something they would find to be fun! 

6. Do what THEY love!

While we all have our outdoor passions that we hope our kids will also learn to love, maybe you just simply need to rethink your game plan and incorporate what THEY love to do and take it outdoors!

Do they love to read? Throw up a hammock or lay out a blanket and let them read outside! 

Do they love to color or draw? Get some sidewalk chalk and spend some time drawing on the sidewalk together! 

Or what about designating a special bin of toys for outside play only?

It is all about building a foundation for loving the outdoors, so any kind of positive experience outdoors is a WIN in our books! 

7. Be the master of distraction!

Don’t let them think about what they are doing. Dance like crazy if you have to. Tell funny jokes. Make them laugh! 

Distract them by giving them an important “job!” Tell them that you need their help with younger siblings. Or give them an important responsibility like leading the group!

Point out unique things you see along the way. “Look, is that a paw print?” Or, “Wow, look at that hole in the tree…do you think an animal lives in there?” 

Get them to talk about something they are interested in and keep asking more questions to keep the conversation going and before long, they will find themselves enjoying it!

8. Repeatedly expose them to the same things in the same places.

Sometimes it just takes repeated exposures to certain activities before a child decides that it is actually enjoyable!

Consider camping in the same spot a few times a year and they will begin building fond memories of that place, which will often lead to a love of camping! 

Wish they would ride on their bike longer? Pick a trail that you can ride regularly and make it a goal to go a little further each time. The familiarity and sense of accomplishment they feel will hopefully lead to more of a love of biking!

9. Eat outside!

Who doesn’t enjoy a yummy treat or snack when you’re out and about in nature? 

Throw out a blanket in the backyard and have an outdoor picnic! Pick a park or somewhere with picnic tables and pack a lunch!

Build a fire, roast some marshmallows and make some s’mores!

Or maybe when you head out for your next hike, throw in some special treats or snacks that you don’t normally have. 

Plan to have hot chocolate after playing in the snow! Grab some ice cream after a hot summer day of playing outside! Think outside the box, the possibilities are endless!

10. Meet some friends for an outdoor playdate!

Sometimes spending time with others outside of our own family will help spark a love for the outdoors! 

Maybe they will see a friend or neighbor riding their bike and it will encourage them to spend more time on their bike.

Or they may see a friend being more adventurous and it gives them the courage to try something new! Next time you want to head outdoors, invite another Mama and her kiddos to join you! You just never know what it may spark in your kids!

Final Thoughts

While there is never a “one-size-fits-all” model for getting kids outside, we have found that it often just takes time (and sometimes lots of patience!) to foster a love for the great outdoors! 

Keep trying and don’t give up! You’re doing a great job! 

And if you are looking for some extra inspiration and encouragement, be sure to join us over on Facebook at our “Outdoor Family Chat” Group!

Anyone out there struggle with kids not wanting to be outside? Feel free to add your tips and tricks below! We would love to hear what works for you!

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13 thoughts on “Help! My kid doesn’t like to be outside!”

  1. For the most part my girls love to be outside and I often “make” them go outside when they are ready to “kill” each other inside ! However, both my girls like their quiet time and they LOVE their books. So, what we do is get a big comfy blanket and some pillows and spread them out under the shade in our backyard. We bring dolls and books and other “inside toys” and we have our quiet time outside. They love this! I want them to know that not only is it great to be outside and be dirty and noisy and active, but you can also be quiet and peaceful too. Amelia, love your blog and have been a regular reader for some time! Thanks!

    1. Hi Susan – first of all, thanks so much for being a loyal reader 🙂 SEcondly, YES!!! I, personally, LOVE quiet outdoor time…and sometimes I forget about that as a mom now of two busy boys. I am thinking I just may need some hammock time with a good book (and a good distraction for them! ;)) this afternoon! 🙂

  2. These are all great tips. Even though our daughter has grown-up living an outdoors life, there are times that she just isn’t in to joining along on a hike. A big help for us to get over the “I don’t want to” hurdle is to give her something else to do while we’re on a trail – much like your tip #5. The best game we’ve found for this is geocaching! Emma will proclaim she doesn’t like hiking, but she loves geocaching – a modern day treasure hunt. But shhhhh…. don’t tell her that she’s probably hiked twice as many trails geocaching as she ever did just plain old hiking!

  3. Just found you while working on a product review for Kuhl. Love your blog! My husband and I are runners & outdoor enthusiasts, and we love introducing our girls (3 & 1) to our passions. These are great tips! Our girls have been on running and hiking adventures since before they were born. I think leading by example is a great way to help wee ones grow up with a love & appreciation of being active and outside! On any given day ask my 3 y/o what she’d like to do, and the answer is always some activity outside!

    1. Hi Nicole – cool! We are HUGE fans of Kuhl around here 🙂 And yes, totally agree – making the outdoors/adventure a normal part of their life is key! Thanks so much for reading – off to check out your blog too!

  4. Awesome tips. My daughter is only 8 months so no real complaining about it yet, but she loves riding in the pack so I think we’re off to a great start. Will be keeping all of this in mind as she gets older!

    1. Thanks so much! Glad you are reading and wishing you many adventures to come! 🙂 (It won’t be long before you can’t keep up! :))

  5. I have a 3-year-old son. He’s my only son. He has always loved going outside, in fact he never wanted to stay at home. Since he’s startws going to Kindergarten, he doesn’t want to go outside any more. He cries his lungs out and insists on staying at home. He only goes outside if he knows he is going to meet a friend, otherwise buying new toys or going to playground is not any motivation for him. I am very worried about him. I hope it’s just a phase.

  6. I have a 3-year-old son. He’s my only son. He has always loved going outside, in fact he never wanted to stay at home. Since he’s started going to Kindergarten, he doesn’t want to go outside any more. He cries his lungs out and insists on staying at home. He only goes outside if he knows he is going to meet a friend, otherwise buying new toys or going to playground is not any motivation for him. I am very worried about him. I hope it’s just a phase.

    1. My son is like this lately. Only with me, if dad is home and we are planning a hiking adventure or going to the playground he will happily go along. When it’s just the two of us he won’t even go outside in the back yard. This is the same boy that would wake up and ask to go outside before we even got out of bed six months ago. I don’t know what happened or why this sudden refusal to do anything happened. It’s really frustrating!

  7. I would be very weary of forcing children into doing things they dislike too often. I grew up camping, hiking, and going on family road trips. I always got carsick driving through canyons on the way to hiking trails, yet was forced to do this on weekends throughout most of my childhood. Once I was old enough to stay home alone, I stopped going to the mountains with my family. When I was 18, I went to college out of state and never moved back (I am now 30). I can’t imagine forcing my dogs to do something every weekend that made them physically ill, much less children. I know my parents had good intentions and thought I would grow out my carsickness and disdain for forced marches and tent camping, but the leading by example just doesn’t work.

    Don’t force your kids to spend their childhood doing things they don’t enjoy just because they are YOUR hobbies. Don’t force your kids into being people they are not. You will force them into escaping from you.

    As an adult, I’ve learned to like the outdoors on my own terms. I am very physically active, have been a runner for years and do yoga. I enjoy the beach, traveling, and even occasional hiking. However, I will never choose to sleep in a tent when I could sleep in a bed. I had too many freezing nights in a tent as an 8 year old child.

    1. HI Ella – I’m so sorry you felt that way as a kid! I definitely think it’s a balance for sure…but still argue that getting outside is good for everyone. Just HOW you get out can be different for each person for sure 🙂

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