• So there we were on another weekly trail hike with our four children. For the most part, they love being outdoors and can hold their own with even the more challenging hikes. With all of the different terrain surrounding the area where we live, we never run out of new places to explore. Sometimes my children want to bring their friends along, and it’s great to be able to include, and sometimes introduce other children to our connection with the outdoors. This particular week my nine-year old daughter and six-year old son each had friends join us. The mother of the six-year old friend wanted to come with us because she said her son never really hiked before and that she wanted to make sure he’d be okay. No problem, I figured.

    How long and how far is this hike? Are there any snakes out here? Any Poison Ivy?

    As my kids jumped out of the car, each sporting his/her own backpack, with snacks, and a water bottle; the mother approached me with a laundry list of questions: How long and how far is this hike? Are there any snakes out here? Any Poison Ivy?  There were several other questions- just too long to list- as she loaded up her child with the thickest layer of sun block I’d ever seen. This child had long curly hair, wore thick glasses, had on a long pair of pants, long-sleeve shirt, and was sniffling due to various allergies. He was cute as hell but definitely wasn’t the rugged outdoor-looking type. I patiently answered her questions as we made our trek down to the main trail.

    Believe it or not, that child ended up making it all the way up the hill and back down…

    Less than 100 yards into our hike, I spotted a pair of deer feeding on some wild grass just ahead of us. I turned to the children and to our guests to point them out and asked them to keep it down as to not scare them away.  To my surprise the mother and her child were nowhere to be found. I walked back down the dirt path, leaving our children with my wife and saw the mother walking while holding her child in her arms. In a somewhat joking manner I said, “This is supposed to be a hike not a ride,” and I encouraged the mother to put her son down. She reluctantly complied and responded, “Oh, he doesn’t know how to hike and he’s not used to this kind of activity.” WOW! I thought to myself, isn’t hiking just like walking only on different terrain… But of course I couldn’t say that to her. So I motioned to the rest of our group to continue walking ahead as I knew I’d have my work cut out for me with our guests. Not with the child, but with his mother.  I turned to the six-year old child and said,”Wow, I’ve never seen anyone take to hiking and learn it so fast. You’re amazing!” You could just see the child’s face light up. “Maybe you can catch up with your friends up ahead,” as he bolted up the path to catch up. Believe it or not, that child ended up making it all the way up the hill and back down (two and a half miles) including a short snack break.

    His mother, who was in disbelief when she saw her son run ahead, explained that this was her only child and admitted that perhaps she was a little over protective. We talked about the expectations we have for our children and how it affects their belief in their abilities to accomplish certain tasks. She kept saying how amazing my kids were–my four-year old son was out there with us on the hike and leading the pack without any complaints. I explained that my children don’t really know differently and that they’ve learned to acclimate to the environment presented to them. I told her my take on things–if you expect your children (especially if you verbalize it) to be unable to achieve something, then chances are they won’t! Furthermore, if you don’t set expectations high, showing them that you believe in them, and you allow them to have an easy out, then they will take it. This definitely applies to many other challenges your children may face in life. Yes, you want them to be prepared, but let their experiences and abilities dictate their limitations, not you!