Almost nine years into this whole parenting game, I've accepted that almost no kid-related problem, however big or small it might seem, comes with an easy solution. (For proof, please refer to my then-3-year-old son's absolute refusal to poop on the potty for almost a year after he trained himself to pee on it in one day, or my now-8-year-old daughter's lifelong commitment to waking up at least once in the middle or the night.)
As my kids have gotten older, their problems have evolved, too. They're complex now, and the results have more consequence. Give in to a 2-year-old's demands regularly, and you're just trying to survive. Constantly capitulate to an almost-6-year-old, and you're raising a kid who thinks that whining is the best way to win. Your toddler gets pushed down by another kid at the park, and you pick her up, make sure she's okay, and send her back to the slide. A classmate tells your third grader she hates her, and conversations (many of them) need to be had.
Because I'm now trained that nothing's simple when it comes to kids, I was recently surprised to find that one extremely uncomplicated thing works wonders when I'm trying to get my family to reconnect after activity overload, too much screen time, or a particularly difficult patch. It's a throwback to my own childhood, and honestly, I can't believe I hadn't incorporated it before now. The magic pill: the family walk.
Before you roll your eyes, let me explain why the simple act of taking a walk together (no phones allowed) is so powerful. Not only is walking great exercise for everyone, but it forces us to both slow down and open up. When we're moving, we don't focus on a particular task or problem, but instead enter a more meditative state. And that is the perfect mental place to be when you're trying to get deep with your kids.
When we're on a walk, we're all able to really listen to each other in a way that, sadly, just doesn't happen that often in modern life.
I remember my mom telling me that she never had a problem getting me to open up and discuss big issues with her, but for my younger brother, she had to catch him in the right mood to really connect. And more often than not, that meant engageing him in a physical activity that had absolutely nothing to do with what she really wanted him to talk about. By moving his body and distracting his mind, he was able to let down his emotional guard and talk about whatever was bothering him in a less defencive way.
On a smaller scale, our family walks have done the same for my kids. When we're walking, we talk about about small things (what we're seeing around us, how excited our dog is to be on a walk with the whole family) and big ones (our goals for the upcoming year, struggles at school and with friends, upcoming trips and events we're both excited and anxious about).
More than anything, I can see how happy my kids are to have both parents' undivided attention. Away from the constant call of household chores, nonstop beeping phones, and the distraction of shiny toys and glowing screens, we're all able to really listen to each other in a way that, sadly, just doesn't happen that often in modern life. Yet all it takes to accomplish is one simple suggestion: "Let's go for a family walk." Try it, and see just how powerful it can be.