First off you need to know your kids abilities, because in their minds they can do anything and trust me, they will try. They have little to no fear at times and taking that extra step toward the unsafe boundary is often expected. Even small mountains with perfect defined hiking trail can still be a tough challenge for a child. Their legs are sometimes so much shorter and the eroded sections are much more difficult to high jump. If you plan to do any hiking or outdoor activity with a child, start with a mountain that has a trail and that you would consider to very easy and maybe a bit boring for yourself and then slowly work your way up to the tough and longer ones. Kids are strong and they do get stronger faster than most adults. Maybe rather than a mountain right off the bat, a relaxing hike back to a pond or swim hole. Once you're in the woods, you can get a better feel for how your child takes to Mother Nature.
Here are a couple more bullet-point thoughts that you could use while on the trail or just out playing in the great outdoors:
~ Make the hike fun, not a race to the destination. Let your children be the first there so they will enjoy a feeling of accomplishment. If they are too fast, may I suggest sticking a rock or two in their packs to slow them down? Just kidding, or am I?
~ Let them invite friends their own age, so they don't feel left out by the adults.
~ Let them lead and carry packs, so they feel like a part of the group and that they're doing their part. Start their packs off light, and add to them as they get older and stronger.
~ Encourage them to keep a journal of their trips.
~ Buy them a camera so they can take pictures to share with family and friends. This may help keep their interest longer and take their mind off the longer parts of the hike. It also gives them something to look back at as a good experience.
~ Maybe have them start a blog of their adventures, or use social media so their friends can follow their progress.
~ Make the hike comfortable. If you wouldn't wear it, don't assume they would. Have them break in new boots, just as you would. Bring dry socks — kids just love water and mud. If they're comfortable, everyone wins.
~ Make sure they snack and drink during the hike. This will keep their energy up and their attitudes positive. I swear to this day, my daughter climbs just for the beef jerky and chocolate.
~ Consider bringing a small camp stove along. It makes it very easy to fix soup or hot drinks for lunch and always requires a bit longer of a break, which kids appreciate.
~ Be sure to let them know how they're doing. Be positive. Give them many words of encouragement.
~ Don't get into the "we're almost there" routine; they will quickly learn that you're almost never "almost there."
~ Most important, don't tell them there's ice cream at the top unless you're climbing Whiteface.
"Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives."
– Thomas Berry
I've found these tips to be helpful on the trail and I try to use them as much as I need too. But remember, all children are different, and as parents you know what's best for them. The fun starts with you.