The stand off. The point where your child looks at you and says, “I quit, I can’t go on, or I can’t do this!” I sat my fifty-two pound pack on the ground from exhaustion, sat down on a log lying next to the trail and just looked at my son in bewilderment. How could he just stop, again, for the tenth time, and tell me that he could no longer continue down the trail?
The setting: You have secured permits for 5 days of backpacking with two friends and your child. You have assessed your child and know that he/she can physically handle the challenge of 5 days in the backcountry with the miles/elevation planned out. Your backpack is packed to its capacity as to take on all necessary gear needed for the two of you in the backcountry. On day 1, you wake up at 4 am, to meet the rest of your group at the trailhead after three hours of driving. As you unload your packs from the car, throw them on your backs and make adjustments, your child looks at you and says…..I can’t, I just can’t. WHAT!!!!!!! Let’s fast forward this adventure two hours and 2.5 miles/1000 elevation gain down the trail and your child takes a break for the 100th time stating “I can’t go on and attempts the greatest acting job of exhaustion.” Over the course of trail, I had slowly removed gear from his pack to lighten his load incase pack weight was the catalyst to desire to just quit. So, what do you do now if the pack weight is reduced, your child is plenty hydrated and has continued to snack but no longer wants to go on?
For the purpose of this example, my child was fully capable, had the stamina and determination to complete this trip, however in the first two hours, he wanted to just quit. I say this to note that the first solution was not to turn around even though it is a viable solution. At times we do turn around, even when we have longingly wanted to hike a particular trail or climb a particular peak. However, based on the conditions, trail, his abilities and mine, turning around did not need to be the immediate solution. So where do you go from here?
I shamefully call it bribery but one educator clarified it to me by stating, “it’s not a bribe, it’s a reward.” Though I laugh, I don’t necessarily buy into that ideal entirely. However, if I want to feel like a good parent on the trail, I just repeat it over and over to myself. Personally, it is a tough call. I’m not trying to bribe my child to hike….otherwise, why are we doing this. However, if I persuade my child into completing day one’s itinerary or to complete the trip, he/she may be proud of the accomplishment or excited about the really unique experience. And after all, I want to teach my child to persevere and to learn that hard work and sweat pay off. Personally, I also wrestle with the idea of whether a child needs a bribe or reward to complete a task. My perspective is that I am guiding the next generation and just completing a task doesn’t always result in a reward. Then I find that I am overthinking the entire concept and start over.
I imagine every parent has been caught in this same moment when there is a stand off and the trip is coming to a complete stall. Obviously, every parent parents differently with varying ideals and philosophies. The trick is finding out what works for you and your child to ensure the best outcome for both of you and being prepared to face the challenges on the trail. On day hikes, I frequently observe parents trying all avenues of persuasion to the point of picking child up and walking back to the car. I have personally promised ice cream, pick out any drink you want or an hour of XBox. When the kids were little I would stash lollipops or cookies in my pack for desperate times.
For backpacking, this could potentially become a little tricky on the days that you can not fulfill ice cream and Xbox promises. With a little planning, however, you might be able to stash some bribes….or rewards in your backpack. In this particular trip, I was prepared but only by chance. I happened to be packing an IPad mini to track my path with a navigation app and during my son’s final “I can’t” moment, he asked if he could play Minecraft on it when we made it to camp. I placed a strict no whining policy for the next three miles to camp and he suddenly found new energy to make it to camp quicker than he had previously hiked all day. When he arrived at our lakeside camp spot, surrounded by tall granite mountains and plenty of trees and car sized boulders to climb, he was so excited. The hard work had paid off and he chose to explore for hours until the sun went down. When it was completely dark, a young boys adventurous soul had been filled, he climbed into the tent, curled up in his sleeping bag and sweetly asked to play on the IPad.