There a lot of opinions out there about raising kids, some good and some bad. Add in raising kids in the outdoors and those opinions tend to get a little more passion behind them. People love to implement absolutes on all kids and treat them all the same. The people that do this are ignoring that kids are all different and all come from different backgrounds. This article is more about concepts than rules. It’s more about learning to understand your kids and teaching them simple principles that will lead to success in the outdoors and in life. All of the thing in this article are principles that we taught at home and in public that helped us prepare our kids for life in the outdoors and in the world.

For starters, my wife and I have never uttered the phrase, “use your inside voice” to our kids. Now this isn’t because we think our kids should be loud in the house or in public. Trust me with three boys they could be plenty loud. No, we used a different challenge to our kids. “It’s time to use your hunting voices.” Along with the challenge came instructions on how to whisper, how to talk with as little air movement as possible to be clear but quite. The reason it was a challenge is, if they wanted to go hunting with dad they had to prove they could be quiet enough to go. With 3 boys this was a lot of fun. Little did I know when we started this challenge that boys could get into a wresting match while whispering at each other about who was the quietest, all while hardly making a noise. The bonus to this twist on quietness is we never had to get mad at them because the thought of not going out with dad was more punishment than we could ever give at home, and if they weren’t quiet there was no harm done. 

Trust is an important thing to work on at home at an early age. What’s funny about me writing about trust is when my oldest boy was in grade school he routinely told people that he trusted everyone but dad and grandpa because “they will only get you into trouble.”  When the boots hit the dirt however, the kids knew they could trust us as parents and we would take care of them in the outdoors.  Trust like this isn’t built in the outdoors, it’s built at home. It starts by allowing your kids to be honest with the questions that they have and being there for them day in and day out. One of the lies in life is that it is about quality time with your kids. No, it’s about time with your kids. When you keep your word, listen to them and don’t chew on them for learning, they will trust you. Trust is really important in the outdoors and tends to make the teenage years go way better than average. 

Absolutes are another thing you can teach at home where little harm is done. Each of us needs to learn that in life there are absolutes. Gravity is one absolute that kids love to test often. The reason this is important is that without understanding absolutes at home they can’t learn important life lessons with little harm done. We used every opportunity to show our kids the results of not respecting absolutes. Asking them to try to put a log back together after splitting it or putting the water back into a bottle after shooting it at the range are just some examples of how we helped our kids learn absolutes. We all need to learn there are things we can’t take back.

Responsibility is another thing that starts at home and makes all the difference in the world in the outdoors. The key to teaching responsibility is to give it and hold kids to it. Kids need things they are capable of being responsible for. As parents we need to remember that giving responsibility also means giving permission to fail. If kids can’t fail, then they don’t have responsibility. Responsibility also needs to be earned and built on. As parents, we need to meet kids were they are at and work with them to build their responsibility as they grow and mature. Remember every kid is different and needs to worked with on an individual bases. One of the things we did with our kids is required them to earn the money for the components to load their own ammunition. No money earned = no shooting that trip. It’s important to not be mad at your kids for failing, but instead let them live with their failure. That’s how we all learn, whether we want to admit it or not.

“Stop” is another important lesson to teach at home. Whether it is with games, contest or a firm scolding, making sure that kids know that when someone says stop you stop. They also need to be taught that it is ok to say stop. This requires us as adults to respect and listen to them when they see something that isn’t right. When “stop” is used by anyone that is the time you talk over the issue at hand and learn together before something bad happens.

I can’t express enough how much I appreciated these lessons I was taught at home growing up and how they have impacted me and my kids over the years. At the age of seventeen my best friend and I paddled a sick guy out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota after dark by counting strokes and navigating with a flashlight and compass. I get to watch my boys teach others how to fish and hunt year round because we taught the basic principles to the outdoors at home at the earliest ages. These are some of the basic building blocks to every lesson we need to learn to be successful in the outdoors. Have fun learning them together as a family at home so you can build on them in the outdoors.

Original Published in Midwest Outdoors January 2019

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