Be realistic with your expectations
You might have been dreaming about day trekking into that box canyon and scaling the rim for decades, constantly wondering what you could see from the very best. But if you’ve got 4 and 9 year old children along, this is extremely unlikely to happen… at least not in the way you had imagined! There are always rare exceptions, but keep in mind that children of all ages have both physical and mental limitations to any action. It’s hardly realistic to expect a 4 year old to possess the physical stamina to increase for 45 minutes, spend two hours scrambling up a canyon wall, be excited about looking around up high (for more than two minutes), and then reverse the entire procedure. Most unprepared adults are hard pressed to achieve this adventure and come out with a smiley disposition.
To give everyone a satisfactory experience, rather, try hiking into the box canyon and engaging your children natural desire to explore and learn. Whip out the binoculars and see who will find the most birds flying across the canyon wall. Do a little (well supervised) boulder hopping at the base of the canyon. See which one of you can find the most animal tracks, or the most interesting bugs, or butterflies (take pics on your smartphone, you can use these later to spark some more conversation). Give them a hypothetical question by asking them how they would climb to the top? Kids of all ages love to explore and problem solve, especially if it doesn’t involve a pencil and paper, or the potential for a failing grade. Oh yes, and deliver a no cook snacks or lunch along. This approach applies to ALL ACTIVITIES. You’ll be less likely to come away with a sour taste in your mouth if you begin with realistic expectations.
Engage your kids
Regardless of what the task is, there’s some component of it that a child over the age of 3 can help with. It is often easier to do everything yourself than it is to try and explain it to someone else… who may not get it done the way you asked anyway. The only problem with that sort of thinking (and I am guilty of doing it all of the time), is that it is quite easy to become resentful of those around you. “Why go ___________(insert your favorite activity here), I have to do everything myself anyway and do not get to enjoy myself!” I understand that you’re fully capable of preparing dinner by yourself, you have probably done it thousands of times. Rather, try having the children get out the plates and utensils, pouring drinks, root around the dry goods bag to discover the tortilla shells, and if age appropriate, slice up a few of the veggies for the tacos. Heck people, this is swimming, not gourmet dining! It doesn’t matter whether the diced tomatoes end up a uniform size. Your children are fully capable of some of the aforementioned tasks, leaving you to work the stove, smile appreciatively, and wonder why you didn’t think of this setup sooner. Children really do want to please their parents. If you maintain the tasks small enough when you ask for their help (and remember… realistic expectations), they will probably go out of the way to accomplish them. They may even surprise you by asking “what else” can they do to help?
Downtime… for everybody
I’m not talking about graham crackers, warm milk, and everyone face down on the furry rug downtime; but if all that you and your children do is go, Go, GO, nobody is going to have a fantastic time camping. Any fond memories you have made are likely to be overshadowed by the shear fatigue that you feel when you get home. Ever had that “I need a vacation from my vacation” feeling? Yep. Strategy in some downtime. Lazy time after lunch (after everyone helped clean up), when you and the children can do their own thing. Play quietly in the tent or camper, take a short nap, or read a story. Hang out around the campfire, talk about the day, how you’ll make smores later, who discovered the coolest rock, or why crazy old uncle Mike tied that ridiculously large dead fish into his kayak for no apparent reason! It doesn’t really matter what you are talking about or doing, or NOT doing, so long as it isn’t a regimented, complete concentration, I may die if I don’t pay attention sort of task. Your kids have far shorter attention spans than you or I do (OK, just you!) , and if you give them a break every so often, you’re more likely to get along better, and also in order to have a more enjoyable experience.
Downtime + engagement + realistic expectations = MORE FUN!
Let’s face it, this is, after all, the purpose of going out camping in the first place. To have fun, make memories, and just enjoy nature and each others company. You have seen these households in the movies, always so organized, so on point, so joyful, and they can do no wrong when they go camping. You can’t buy these experiences, nor are any of us likely to join a movie “family” in the not too distant future, but if we subscribe to some basic ideas, maybe we can come somewhat closer to a perfect? Come to think of it, making those memories with your own children is probably far more satisfying. Skip that movie family… make your own special memories.