What to do with kids who don’t want to go outside
Do you have a kid who is reluctant to spend time outside? It can be tough when as a parent we know all the benefits of a little time in fresh air.
Less fighting, more joy.
Less clean up, more adventure.
Less screen time, more movement.
Getting outside regularly has been an essential part of how I take care of my family’s physical and mental health. We simply don’t have as many arguments when we are outside, the kids play more freely, and I feel far less stressed when we’re in the great outdoors.
And of course, there are all the wonderful health benefits of Vitamin D, fresh air, physical activity, and (hopefully) a better night’s sleep.
But truthfully, my kids aren’t always on board with my “let’s get out the door and go hiking before you can make a mess or start a fight with your brother!” attitude. Sometimes, they just want to lay around and watch TV and it’s like pulling teeth to get them outside.
(Did you think all of us on this blog have super adventurous kids who are always ready for the next hike or bike ride? Trust me, no. We’re just like you!)
7 ways to get reluctant kids to spend more time outside
1. Bring a friend
There is absolutely one thing that motivates my kids more than anything else, and that is getting together with friends. While I absolutely love hiking as a family, I’ll be the first to admit I spend a good chunk of my time begging, cajoling, and bribing my kids to walk just a little further.
But with friends, they’ll zip up and down a mountain and I’m racing behind them to keep up.
Hiking (or biking, canoeing, camping) with friends will also help expose you to new and different areas that you never knew about before. I went hiking with a friend last week and she pointed out a secret play fort we must have walked straight past dozens of times.
Also, don’t forget the benefits of bringing a mom friend for you. Honestly, I get a bit bored after watching my kids play at the playground. But when I have someone to talk to, we’re all happy to stay for longer.
2. Bring their favorite parts of the indoors outside
One of my kids is a lego-building, audiobook consuming machine. He could happily spend hours building, drawing, and reading inside. And some days that’s great. And sometimes, I want him to get a little fresh air, stop making messes inside or just give me a little peace and quiet while I make dinner.
So we take a lot of our favorite indoor activities outside. We’ve built Hot Wheel ramps off our back deck and have done art projects on the picnic table. Get creative with your playtime. You’ll be amazed at how playtime can turn from a stressful mess to creative cooperation when you take it outside.
We also love to take board games outside. Check out this post for the most outside-friendly board games.
3. Give your reluctant kid alone time outside
Remember that audiobook loving, lego-building kid I mentioned before? Over the years, I’ve realized it’s not exactly that he doesn’t love activities, but that he does love his alone time. And when you share a room, that can be hard to come by. If everyone else is out of the house, he wants to stay in and enjoy some peace and quiet. (I can relate).
So if you have a introverted kid who needs a lot of time alone, expand their options so they aren’t always holed up in their room. Here’s a few of our favorite ideas:
- Set them up in a hammock with a good book. We’ll even do this in the cool weather, piled with lots and lots of blankets.
- Put up a tent or a fort outside with dolls, legos, or books.
- Set out a blanket under a shady tree and put on some of our favorite podcasts.
4. Prioritize play
When my kids really aren’t in the mood to go on a big adventure, and I still really need to get them out of the house, we compromise. We’ll get outside, but we’ll find a spot in nature they can just hang out and play.
So many afternoons, we find ourselves simply playing in a creek, building a fort out of sticks, having a picnic, or climbing trees.
While sometimes I wouldn’t mind getting more miles under our belt, my own appreciation for nature has grown as we’ve slowed down. On our “hikes,” which may be a couple miles, or maybe a short walk to some cool looking boulders to climb, I’ve noticed more wildflowers, learned more bird calls, and gotten far more familiar with our surroundings than I would have just moving through.
So shift your idea of what an outdoor outing looks like. Instead of a five-mile hike, why not find a beautiful creek to spend the afternoon wading, birdwatching, floating boats? Who cares if you only make it a quarter mile past the parking lot, if you have a great time.
5. Respect and listen to your reluctant kid’s concerns
One of my kids had an extremely unfortunate trip to a park where he ran into a bees nest and got stung five times. The next week, when we finally convinced him that it was safe to go to playgrounds, he got stung again when he reached his hand into an open bag of chips. Later that summer, yup, you guessed it – a wasp got into his pants and stung him twice.
Understandably, it was hard to get him outside that year. Even with our “if you get stung by a bee, everyone goes out for ice cream” policy.
As much as I just wanted him to push him out the door and put the past behind it, he had legitimate reasons to be concerned. I had to find a balance of respecting his fears, but not allowing them to control his life. It’s a tough needle to thread, but figuring out why your kid is avoiding going outside can help solve the problem.
Did they get a bad sunburn one time? Does bright light hurt their eyes? Do they detest being cold? Do they just think it’s boring? Nailing down what the problem is will get you one step closer to solving it.
If you have a kid whose anxiety is keeping them indoors, please check out Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents. It’s been helpful for us, and not just getting over our fear of bee stings.
6. Find a fun outdoor challenge to do as a family
Some kids will do anything if there is a challenge involved. At Tales of a Mountain Mama, we know how much everyone has enjoyed participating in challenges with us. So we made a family adventure guide (available in as an e-book or spiral-bound version), jam-packed with family activity ideas, book recommendations, and DIY challenges.
So pick a challenge as a family. Do you want to visit one new park every week this summer? Bike 100 miles over a month, or a year? Spend 100 hours outside? Check out our Outdoor Family Adventure Guide, with an awesome family journal and cool printables that will motivate even your most reluctant kid.
7. Schedule downtime indoors
I’ve got to be honest, as much as we are a nature-loving family, we have got to have our days indoors. Sometimes, we just want to curl up and read a book, do a puzzle, or veg out in front of sports. If we’ve been going hard for several days in a row (which can be so easy to do in the summer!), we schedule some down time. Maybe the kids will wander out to the backyard to play, maybe not. But we don’t force it.
If you’re looking for some indoor ideas, check out this post on our favorite indoor toys. And if you’re looking for a great read for a cozy day on the couch, here are some of our favorite outdoor books.
Rest is an important part of our routine. Balancing our adventures with time at home helps appreciate both.
It would be so much easier if our kids would just listen to all of our brilliant ideas and just trust us when we tell them we know what’s best for them.
But of course, parenting doesn’t work like that. There’s no need to lose hope though – with a little trial and error, you are sure to find ways to help your reluctant kid spend more time outside.
- Help! My kid doesn’t like to be outside!
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- How to hike with kids of different abilities
What to do with kids who don’t want to go outside
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