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Challenge: Walking the Talk

Feed them and other ideas to get kids outdoors walking and talking

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I remember when my mom used to ask me how my day had gone when I got home from school during my teen years, I’d respond with those stereotypical one-word answers: “Fine.” Or, I’d get back from a date and she’d ask how it went and I’d answer, “Good.”

These were not the answers my mom was hoping for, but you cannot force a kid to talk, especially a teenager.

It’s the age-old question of how to get your teen to talk.

Sometimes my mom would express disappointment that I didn’t answer with more detailed information about what was going on in my friendships. It’s natural for moms to get frustrated when they want to learn about what’s going on in their teenagers’ social lives, but conversations cannot be forced.

Now, as a mom myself with my own kids, I understand how my mom used to feel, how she wanted to know what was going on in my life and heart. The question is always, how do we do that best as our kids become teens and even into their early ’20’s? You surely cannot force anyone, much less your kids, to share things with you.

One way that I have found I can get my kids to talk is by taking them outside, away from their indoor routine. Yep, I love the outdoors and getting out into nature; it’s where I come alive, it’s part of what makes me who I am, it’s where I can breathe. And, I love to get my kids out there with me. When they are away from their phones, their computers, their x-box, they tend to open up more, to share questions they have or what they might be wrestling with in their lives. Something in nature will trigger thoughts, ideas, stories, and memories. They will ask me questions, share insights, and ponder decisions with me as a sounding board.

Now, it’s just a matter of how to get kids to want to be outside with us so we can discover conversation and connection with them along the path.

Following are three ways I have found that help me get kids outdoors where conversation is a welcome byproduct.

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First, make being outdoors and adventure part of your family dynamics. Choose a reasonable number of times on a regular basis, and make the goal something attainable. You can say, “I’d like us to go on an adventure once a week,” or “Every other Saturday we are going on a new hike to explore the area.” Depending on the age and stages of your kids, there may be push back. That’s why talking to our kids in advance, so they can plan it, helps. In the end, you tell your kids, “It’s what our family does!” Or as my friend Christy teasingly puts it to her kids: “Forced family fun.”

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Second, invite another family along or allow your kids to bring a friend with them for the adventure every once in a while. I say “once in a while” because dynamics change when others join us, and I need time alone with my kids for the conversation; but, kids do like to change it up a bit which gives them something to look forward to.

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And, thirdly and maybe the most important way to get -- and keep -- kids outdoors is to make the adventure fun, which means, Feed them during and afterwards. It is amazing what kind of easy-going conversation occurs on full stomachs for both kids and adults. I always try to pack snacks for the journey, periodically offering them along the way. I have found moods changing in direct proportion to blood sugar levels. Feeding our kids -- and us-- helps keep everyone in a good mood and comfortable convo.

One more thought: if your kids do begin to complain despite trying everything, tell them that you’ll take them out to ice cream or a nice dinner after the adventure, which means more conversation will take place.

Works like a charm.

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