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Raising Confident Kids In The Outdoors

August 2017

We’d been on the road for ten weeks now, hiking to the top of peaks like The Chief in British Columbia, to secluded alpine lakes in the Sawtooths of Idaho, and beside glaciers in The Enchantments in Washington.

At the start of this trip, I’d have to yell at him for trying to down-climb instead of rappelling the correct way when we’d go rock climb. Now, he was asking to practice leading routes.  

Up until now, on these long, hard hikes, I’d only take my three oldest kids. The two younger kids always stayed back at the campground (or parking lot often) with Victor and play or do arts and crafts.

But now, my nine-year-old had turned a corner.  

All of a sudden, he didn’t want to stay back. He wanted to be there with his siblings as they pursued bigger challenges in the outdoors.

It started in Canmore when he wanted to hike the East End of Rundle, a steep hike gaining 3000 feet in 2 only miles. He was such a trooper.

Then, at Lake Louise, he joined us on the 12-mile trek to Lake Agnes, up to the top of Devil’s Thumb, and then, on to The Plain of Six Glaciers. It was a long eight hours and he kept stride with us the whole way!

But even now, I was nervous to take him on the famous Subway top-down hike in Zion National Park.

It was mostly because I felt like we weren’t prepared enough.

Three days before, on a random whim, we submitted our application as a what-if. “What if we could hike The Subway Top-Down for our final day of this epic 76-day trip?”  

We were shocked when we won the lottery and didn’t even find out until we were only a few hours away from Zion–less than 36 hours from when we needed to start the hike.

We didn’t have dry bags, wetsuits, or headlamps.

What we did have though was determination, athleticism, persistence, and plenty of climbing skills so, we went for it.

My three oldest are always game for an adventure and possible challenge, but I was worried that it was just the fear of missing out that was driving Jiraiya to want to be included. I had to make sure he wouldn’t freak out halfway through the hike.

“You have to be okay with getting lost or sleeping in the canyon if you want to go,” I told him the night before. After all, this trail demanded strength and focus. There was no room for coddling.

If he was going to participate, he had to embrace confidence, adaptability, grit, and resilience.

As we drove up the steep and windy Kolob Terrace Road and the sky was turning from pink to orange to light blue, Jiraiya was still wavering.

“I don’t know if I should go?”

“It’s your call,” I told him. “I don’t care one way or the other. If you decide to go, I expect you to be capable.”

“Okay, I’m doing it,” he says as we pull into Wildcat Canyon Trailhead.

subway top down hike,

He kicked butt on the trail.

He hiked fast, repelled beautifully, and swam through every ice-cold pool with bravery, although there was a tiny bit of hesitation on the first swim mostly because I was freaking out with how cold it was.

As we hiked out of the canyon, eight hours later, up the steep trail in the ninety-degree sun, I think he lost some of the baby fat from his cheeks and his shoulders broadened.  

It’s one of the many curses of parenting—we want to raise strong, capable, independent people, and then all of a sudden you miss the scared, timid, wary child that used to hang on your leg and bury their face in your shoulder.

I believe the world needs more kids and adults who are ready to face challenges, grit their teeth, and get dirty.

Who can go for periods without food, social media, and video games to pursue a goal. Who hold themselves to an ideal, an expectation that they have for themselves, and are self-accountable to it.

The outdoors isn’t the only way for us to teach this to our kids– but I love that it’s the way my kids are learning to be confident, resilient, and gritty.

If you too want to raise confident kids, I believe it comes down to 3 key things:

  1. Being a good role model. First and foremost, I don’t expect anything more from my kids than I expect from myself. If I am going to commit to an adventure, I act brave and don’t complain when things get hard. I exercise and eat right so I stay healthy and strong enough to do adventures with my kids.
  2. Letting them choose their challenge. Since we unschool, the kids have a lot of free time on their hands. I don’t allow them to play video games or use social media and instead, I help nurture their creativity and passions. Whether it’s learning a new instrument or improving their bouldering skills, I try to provide opportunities and support without worrying too much about their performance. It’s really about helping them to take risks, experiment, and develop self-responsibility.
  3. Breaking the generational self-worth crisis. We live in a time when parents are afraid to discipline their children for fear of their kids not liking them. Our grandparents lived in a time of scarcity. They didin’t have the options and abundance we do and so they raised our parents with the mentality of working hard and playing it safe. Then, our parents were so busy working and playing it safe that they weren’t as present and patient with us as we needed. In an attempt to not be like them, parents now coddle their kids thinking that this will make them feel heard and seen. To some extent, it works. But in a lot of ways, it backfires and creates soft kids. Add in the video games and social media and now we have a generation that would rather stay inside than go play outdoors.

I’m not pointing a finger, only hoping this helps you observe your parenting strategies and motivates you to be the best version of yourself possible. Raising confident kids in the outdoors through challenging hikes and adventures is such a wonderful way to connect as a family.

If you want more inspiration and how-to advice, read my books, Be Who You Want Your Kids To Be and A Playful Life. Then, join our family on our coaching platform, Be The Hero Academy. These are all free resources that will help you create confident, resilient, and healthy kids while also helping you to better connect as a family.

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