Family, Kids & Relationships

9 Parenting Tips For Whine-Free Outdoor Playdates and Gatherings

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Thanks to COVID-19, no one needs an almanac or weatherman to tell them it’s going to be a long winter. But getting outside to play and enjoy nature has become an antidote for lockdowns—so what’s a parent to do when the long winter months mean more days spent indoors

Keep playing outside, for starters. It’s still considered to be one of the safest ways for kids to enjoy playdates, plus it’s the best way to deal with cabin fever, even if the cold weather requires you to be outside for shorter periods of time. Here are a few tips for getting your kiddo to enjoy outdoor play during the winter (and to keep them from whining about the cold).

Check their clothes.

First and foremost, make sure they’re dressed properly. Families in Norway famously spend quality time outdoors year round, and their positive attitude about cold climates is reflected in the saying, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Kids will happily stay outside longer without complaint if they’re warm, comfortable, and dry—and that depends on having the right clothes. 

Layering is great for trapping body heat, but also make sure their hands, head, and feet are covered. Keeping your kiddos’ feet dry is key to keeping them warm, so invest in a good pair of waterproof, insulated boots if the weather tends to get icy or wet where you live. Gloves or mittens that cinch over the cuffs on their jacket are best for sealing in warmth and keeping out snow and wind (try using a Scrunchie or ponytail holder to help keep them in place, especially if your little one is active). There are several organizations, such as Operation Warm, One Warm Coat, and Coats 4 Kids, that can help you get winter kids’ gear if money is tight.

Keep them moving. 

Think hide and seek, a game of catch, tag, or perhaps a treasure hunt. As long as the body is in motion it’s generating heat, making it less likely your child will start complaining that it’s too cold to be outside. If it snows where you live, sledding and snowman-building count too, so mix it up to maximize their time al fresco.

Find warmth in creative places.

While the right clothing and movement are critical, there are other ways to infuse the winter with warmth. Some ideas:

  • If you have access to a firepit or campfire, you don’t have to save it for summer nights or crisp fall days—it’ll work wonders for keeping everyone comfy and toasty in the winter, too. Plus, kids loooove roasting s’mores and telling (or reading) stories by the firelight.
  • Try a simple no-sew DIY for making your own hand warmers that heat up in the microwave. Give them personality with fun, colorful fabric and cute buttons your kids will like and it may be enough for some kids to want to go outside, believe it or not, especially if they’re younger. 
  • Having something warm to come home to, like a hot cup of cocoa with marshmallows, isn’t a bad idea for motivating kids to stay outside just a few more minutes. Just make sure your kiddo doesn’t get so excited that going home for a cup of hot cocoa sounds more fun than playing in the park!

Take walks at night. 

So long as everyone is dressed properly, night walks can be a ton of fun, especially if your town or neighborhood has lots of lights up during winter. Pack a thermos with hot chocolate and turn it into a nighttime adventure where you count stars, keep an eye out for nocturnal animals, and enjoy the moonlight. Free astronomy apps such as SkyView are great for pointing out constellations, too. 

Talk it up.

Get them excited about going outside simply by talking about it. When it comes to kids, sometimes saying things out loud—and perhaps with a little bit of entertainer-style personality—gives them life, so try talking about all the reasons winter is great. From the sparkle of freshly fallen snow, the fun of making snow angels, the smell of crackling fires, and all those fun activities that can only be enjoyed in winter (like sledding), giving your kids something to look forward to may be all it takes to think of winter in a more positive light—and get them out the door. 

Turn the car into a cozy nest. 

Keeping blankets and battery-powered candles in the car might be just the novelties your kiddo needs to leave the house. You can also try listening to books in the car or playing your child’s favorite holiday tunes, even when the holidays are long over. Knowing there’s a fun, cozy car ride involved may be just what they need to get them over the “I-hate-going-outside” hump. And being ready for cold-weather fun on the go will give you the option to make a quick spur of the moment stop that you would have had to skip if you weren’t as prepared.

Bring the indoors outside.

You might hear a lot about “bringing the outdoors in” when it comes to infusing your home decor with hints of nature, but in the winter it might be time to bring the indoors out! For playdates especially, setting up some weather-safe furniture in the garage, patio, or balcony can give kids a spot to play “indoor” games outside, where the ventilation is better.

Try shorter bursts of outdoor play. 

After wrapping our kids in scarves and finding all the lost mittens, many parents want to make the most of their efforts by staying outside for quite a while. But if your child is reluctant to go out to the backyard or your local park for an extended period of time, consider making multiple, but shorter, visits instead. This ensures they reap the benefits of outdoor play without being out long enough to prompt an “I’m too cold” meltdown. 

Give it 15 minutes. 

If all else fails, tell your kiddo you’ll only be going outside for 15 minutes, which sounds totally doable even to younger kids who can’t tell time, and see how things go. Most of the time kids become absorbed in an activity within that time and they stay out longer. It’s worth a try!

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.