Hiking with toddlers is extremely rewarding especially if you love to hike! I remember vividly when my oldest daughter hiked her first hike without ever stepping foot in a carrier or a stroller. I had my youngest on my back. It was an amazing experience especially since we had zero tantrums. However, tantrums do happen and toddlers feet become filled with lead as they decide to stop moving their feet. For those times when you need to get those feet moving to finish the hike or preventing the lead from accumulating in the first place here are 6 ways to motivate your toddler while hiking:
Play a game: Playing a game on the trail can help motivate your toddler and makes hiking fun. See a list of games on my post Hiking games for toddlers.
Food: Make sure your toddler is well fed before the hike. Also feed them little snacks on the go to keep up their energy. Lately our toddler has been eating her lunch before hiking!!! That means I am bringing double the food so we still have some snacks throughout the actual hike.
Bring a treat: This is definitely a separate category from food for a reason. A treat does not have to be seen as motivation but rather something that makes hiking special. Enjoy the treat while taking in a view or at the end of the hike. Our daughter loves cross country skiing. She also loves that we stop for hot chocolate. It is all part of the outdoor experience. Another little note: I have been hearing a lot of parents say that they bring some sort of treat during the hike to help entice their toddler to keep moving. I one time had sausage and near the end of the hike was running a little bit ahead of my oldest daughter. I then would tell her that if she came to me and she would get some sausage lol! It was not only helpful when it came to finishing the hike but we also finished it without having any tantrums.
Sing songs: Singing songs can help a toddler enjoy the hike. Even better is if you pick silly kids songs. Singing the songs will help them focus on the songs rather than hiking. Some song suggestions include: Great Big Moose, Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Row Row Row Your Boat, Hokey Pokey, If Your Happy and You Know it, Etc
Tell a story: Our daughter loves talking and pretending our hike is part of a story. Throughout the hike we might pretend we are saving someone and have to cross bridges or fly on a dragon to a rock in order to collect a key. The stories have endless possibilities and these motivate her to hike. This idea came from hiking with our friends that have kids and one of them is a few years older than our oldest daughter. We used to hear the dad near the end of the hike playing jack and the beanstalk up the mountain with his son. Their son Fee Fii Fo Fum’d all the way up to the base of Black Tusk Mountain when he was only 5 years old!!!
Hike with friends: It does not just have to be their friends but can be your adult friends too! Often kids get distracted by others and become better hikers. kids are also less likely to complain if they see others their age hiking. Our daughter has hiked up to 4 kms with friends and she absolutely loves hiking alongside her grandparents. It is extremely helpful for us because they help keep her entertained throughout the hike.