Photo by ALP STUDIO on Unsplash
I have always enjoyed walks. A shared walk is a perfect setting for catching up with a loved one in a busy world and a solitary one is perfect for quiet contemplation, organizing thoughts and getting struck by inspiration. It's almost as good as sitting on the pot, and far less smelly.
Papa and I loved going on treks in our graduate school years. But the birth of the older one, made going for treks much harder, because now we had a baby in tow. But on the bright side, my inlaws are incredibly fit so we started going all together and taking turns at carrying her. When the older one turned three, my in-laws suggested she was old enough to walk on treks. I was aghast. But they told me that my husband had walked a 10 Km distance in the mountains before he was 4.
There wasn't really an option, so they had done it slowly, and played games like searching or berries, or ambushing each other along the way, relentlessly plodding along, until they had covered the distance.
I thought this was rather unnecessary and too early for my daughter and so we continued to take turns at carrying her. But the next year the older one was getting very heavy and the younger one needed to be carried too. So we decided to make the older one walk. We met with a lot of resistance, but we finally succeeded and now my 6 year old does steep climbs and enjoys long walks and tries to outpace us.
This year at Munnar the younger one was three. I had learned my lesson, and decided to get her walking early. So now both my girls can walk, and trekking on holidays is a lot of fun again.
Here are some helpful tips I have learned from trekking with my toddlers over the years, and from my in laws, who did this throughout my husband's childhood.
With babies under 3
These little ones can hardly do any walking, but if they can walk at all, make them do so for a minute or two at regular intervals to get them used to the idea. But they will have to be carried most of the way. As they get closer to three, they can start walking more.
For babies under two my husband and I found two efficient ways of carrying them during treks. Papa finds it easiest to put them on his shoulders. I like to use a baby carrier.
If you don't want to carry a bulky baby carrier, or don't have one, you can just make a sling out of a dupatta and carry the baby hands free, and balance perfectly on narrow crooked climbing paths. I did this for an hour at a stretch, in Khandala when I forgot my baby carrier.
It is far less tiring than carrying the baby directly.
The first time, be firm and use incentives
On the first trek toddlers try to resist walking. There may be tantrums and screaming and begging. So here are some important tips.
It is important to make them walk from the very beginning of the trek, when their energy levels are highest.
Your toddler will try every trick in the book to manipulate you in to carrying them. So don't make it about, you wont carry them, but that you simply can't. Tell them it is physically impossible to do the trek carrying them. So you need their co-operation to be able to complete it together. Entice them with a fabulous view or some tangible form of achievement, not a bribe.
Create a reward system for short term goal achievements like Let's walk up to that faraway tree or boulder and we can each have a a tic tac or whatever works for you.
Choose a fairly secluded route the first time, to diminish the effect of tantrums, and just wait them out.
Choose an easy route so your child can complete it and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Make sure your toddler is comfortably dressed. A long trek is not the time to try on a pair of new shoes. Dress the child in shoes they are used to, but which still have plenty of wear left in them.
Dress the child in layers, because as the walk continues, the child will get hot and should be able to peel away layers. Keep a hat and or scarf, as the sun may start getting strong or the wind cold.
Slow and steady pace
While trekking with toddlers, it is very important to maintain a slow, but steady, pace so they do not tire themselves out too quickly. Let them find their rhythm, and make frequent stops for rest and hydration. But it is better to not sit down or make the rest too long as the muscles may get stiff making it harder to resume.
A slow but steady pace can easily be acquired by stopping to look around at the scenery, or to examine the flora or fauna. Make sure the chosen path is one your toddler can handle, and it is okay to give them a boost over hurdles without carrying them otherwise.
Carry enough water
This is a tricky part of trekking. If you carry too much water, you have too much weight to lug around. But at the same time you don't want anyone to feel to parched. So try to plan ahead and figure out how much water is optimum and give the kids regular small refreshing sips of water, but do not allow them to drink too much at once. It also helps to carry fruits like oranges and apples, which can be very refreshing and fit in to pockets and their weight can be comfortably distributed.
Games and discovery
Play some simple games like I spy, to keep the less happening parts of the trek interesting. Sometimes a peppy song goes a long way to recharging your little one. Collecting interesting leaves, fruits, noting unusual rock formations and perhaps taking a photograph next to them, and listening for bird and animal calls, can make trekking both entertaining and educational for the kids. When your toddler excitedly points out to a discovery they have made, explore it together. It will make them take a more active interest in the trek.
Hope these tips help you. Happy trails.