The Secret to Getting Children Outside (of their Comfort Zone) and Why it’s Important

Posted by in Ambassador, Deuter USA Blog Posts

We get outside with our children a lot. Being active is part of what we do as a family. Our children, ages 4 and 7, walk or ride bikes to pre-school and elementary school nearly every day and most of our weekends and vacations include outdoor adventures. As a result, our children have learned to ride bikes, ski, hike and backpack at an early age.

Other parents ask us what our secret is, or assume that our children are naturally more inclined toward these activities. The secret is that we repeatedly give them opportunities and take the time to allow them to grow in these activities at their own pace. 

My wife and I have put in hours of time patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, guiding them, encouraging them and waiting for them. The kids have put in hours of time slowly building their skills and confidence, and also learning from their mistakes.

The author's children on the trail with Deuter packs.

This is, of course, an oversimplification of a complex process. But what makes it complex is also what makes it rewarding.

As parents, our primary job is to foster growth and eventual independence. In order for growth to occur, people need to venture outside of their comfort zone. So many essential life skills are gained and reinforced when we do this. Some children are naturally more adventurous and may need to be given more boundaries and others may be more reluctant and need more coaxing.

Knowing your children, how to motivate them, and how and when to challenge them are all important skills. We don’t always execute it perfectly, but parenting is an imperfect science and getting out and doing something is better than nothing at all.

Here are a few tips to consider when getting your children outside:

  • At some point they are going to get cold, hot, tired, hungry, or have any number of other complaints. They may even have a tantrum or meltdown. Fear of this shouldn’t discourage you from taking your kids outside. Teaching them to problem solve and overcome these discomforts builds resilience and coping skills that will serve them well in life.
  • Give your children choices, support them, and let them see the consequences of their actions. We learn more by our failures and mistakes than when we are shielded from consequences. They will gain confidence and learn to be more self-reliant.

The author's child taking on mountain biking.

  • Set small achievable challenges for your children. When they succeed, it gives them confidence and motivates them to do more.
  • Keep things fun and don’t push too hard. Be flexible and willing to change plans when necessary. If it is a good experience they will want to do it again. If it’s not fun, or you are pushing your personal agenda, you risk having them not enjoy the activity or, worse yet, deciding they don’t want to do it anymore.

The author's children and wife on a snowy trail.

  • Find adventure friends for your kids – ones who like to do the same activities. Having a close match in skills is ideal for maximum fun, but a slight imbalance can also be really helpful. If other children are slightly more skilled than your kids, they will motivate your kids to follow and get better. If your child is slightly more skilled, they may act as a leader or teacher.  This is a great way to boost their self-confidence and pride in their own skills and accomplishments.
  • Kids are stronger and more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. Don’t underestimate their abilities and you may be surprised at what they accomplish on their own when given the opportunity.

Smiling kid and mother cross-country skiing.

I selfishly hope that our children will continue to do outdoor activities because that is what I love to do, but it is not a requirement. What I really want is for them to find what they are passionate about and pursue it. I believe the skills gained and lessons learned through being in the outdoors will help them to grow into resilient and confident adults, and will ultimately help them navigate whatever path they choose.


Catch up on a few of Jesse’s past posts and adventures here: 

‘Is This Pack Waterproof?’ How to Keep Your Gear Dry on the Trail

Are You Following Your Outdoor Dreams?

About Jesse Cunningham & Family

Jesse Cunningham & Family

Jesse is a photographer and a father to two young explorers. He has also worked as a field biologist, outdoor educator, climbing guide, and outdoor retail buyer and manager. He loves to climb, hike, mountain bike and anything that gets him outdoors.