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Teaching Kids To Do Hard Things



We live in an era of helicopter parenting, and it can be hard to let our kids grovel through difficult challenges.  It can feel like the most loving choice to hover around, and rescue them from the things that are uncomfortable for them or they are less competent at.  The truth is, jumping in and rescuing our kids can rob them of the growth and maturity that happens when they conquer hard things. 

Virtues like faithfulness and perseverance are sadly lacking in our society. Our kids don’t know how to take responsibility for themselves or have the ‘grit’ required for a successful life. We as parent’s need to help them develop it.

GRIT doesn’t relate to our social importance, how intelligent we are, or even how physically capable we are.  We can all learn to have more grit.  It’s about having stamina, sticking to the commitment, and persevering over the long haul.  I can’t think of a better place to help our kids develop grit than in the outdoors where they have the support of their families to hone this super-valuable skill.

It is a parental mindset that begins the moment our child is born and will continue until we have raised our babies to adulthood.  All along the journey we can impart age-appropriate strategies to help our kids learn the art of grit and determination

The following ramblings are things that we are working on with our kids that seem to be going well.



Our kids need to know that their negative feelings and the desire to give up when its hard are normal human emotions.  We can validate those feelings, but we don’t want to stop there.  We can give them tools to help them be overcomers. One of our kids really hates doing hard things.  Life is about play, choosing the way of least resistance and having fun.  When it’s hot, the trail is steep, and the backpack is heavy, the desire to give up is really strong.  For this child, these feelings are not ones that stay inside.  We have frustration, bad attitude and super turned-off body language hangin out all over the place.  It gives us a chance to talk about the parallels to real life; all the bumps and lumps that are a part of it, and the choices we get to make about how we are going to walk through it. We talk about how easy it can be to give up, but how rich the rewards are when we struggle through. 

We can work on these virtues of grit at home too.  Find books about hero’s and read them aloud to your kids.  Discuss with them the character traits that these stories highlight and what they might do in a similar situation.  Relate your own personal stories of perseverance.  Stories are such a powerful tool for motivation!



Leading groups in the outdoors in a professional capacity requires us to utilize different leadership styles. It is a dynamic and ever-changing environment and our management style needs to be adapted to accommodate this. I believe it is no different parenting our kids in the outdoors.  I see many parent’s giving kids a tonne of options.  Lots of times, that is not a workable style in the outdoors.  Kids need to trust that you have their best interests at heart, and they don’t get to dictate the final decision. Some situations demand that we take a kind but firm authoritarian approach, and occasionally we can be democratic or laissez faire.  Intentionality is the name of the game.  Try not to let your kids off the hook or ‘rescue’ them from their hard emotions. Coach them and see them grow!!



The best strategy we have employed this last year is to write our adventure plans on the calendar.  We have tended to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants family but had been noticing that it was too easy to fill our time with other things, or to not feel like following through on a loosely talked about idea.  It means that our plans are more part of our conversation, and the kids know what we are up to. 

As part of the planning we might show them on a map our intended route and where we might camp.  We talk about what it might be like, and may let them know the parts that could be challenging and what some strategies for tackling it could be.  Know your kids though – for some, too much information just leads to anxiety and they might do better with the challenge being ‘sprung’ on them. 

When we are adventuring we are generous in sharing the benefits and are positive in our conversation. We are a family that wants to focus on being grateful and counting our blessings. We tell them that they can do hard things, that they are strong and capable, and their bodies can take them to amazing places. And then, we let them be.  Sometimes they need some space to work through the challenges.  We don’t continue to pepper them with suggestions, or give hollow praise.  When the going is tough we ask them what letter they are at: G-R-I- or T.  It works better than a 1-10 scale because it validates the challenge yet at the same time keeps us focused on overcoming the challenge. At the end of the day it can be good to debrief, talking about what worked and didn’t work, and reinforcing how good it is for us to extend our body and mind.  We share memories and laugh. 


It is our strong belief, that if we can help our kids develop their grit when they are young through our shared memories in outdoor adventures, that it will set them on a trajectory in life for tackling hard stuff and doing amazing things!

Oh!  And when the adventure is all said and done, create a slideshow of the pictures and watch it together.  Make a photobook too.  It is such a fabulous way to continue to celebrate the success! The memories always get sweeter with time.

The Nanninga Family

The Nanninga Family

Meet Leanne and Kent Nanninga and their five (yes FIVE!) kids. We are delighted to have the Nanninga’s as one of our core Tiny Big Adventure ambassadors.

The Nanninga’s are determined to ‘live a life less ordinary’ and as you get to know them you’ll see they walk the walk!

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