The Backyard Battle Cry
Inspiring Your Kids to Go Outdoors
A battle cry is a yell or chant uttered by soldiers heading into the heat of battle. Well, if you are serious about waging war against indoor sedentary behavior and environmental indifference in your own household, as a parent and commander- in-chief in your child’s life, it will prove helpful to create your very own backyard battle cry to fuel enthusiasm about going outdoors.
American history has handed down many great battle cries and rousing motivational monologues over the years. General George S. Patton Jr, whose military career was memorialized by motivational speeches, was one of the most colorful of all 20th Century military leaders. Patton’s ruggedness, profanity and bluster were part of his modus operandi in order to inspire his men, “Every single man in this Army plays a vital role…bleepity bleep… Don't ever let up…bleeep…Don't ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and… bleeeep… he must do it…” When asked by his nephew about his profanity, Patton remarked, "When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember”. While Patton’s words to his troops were by no means poetic or appropriate for children, they were intended to incite action, save lives and win a war.
Remember the Alamo! Well, you don’t have to be from the Lone Star State to know that those three words uttered in an epochal battle for Texas served as a ragious rallying cry that spurred on the forces of Sam Houston at San Jacinto during one of the most gallant stands of courage and now indelibly inscribed into American history.
Sports are rich with pump-it-up pep talks and battle cries as well. Knute Rockne, known as one of the most charismatic coaches in college football history was credited for coining the phrase, "Win one for the Gipper." during a motivating halftime speech. Not only did Knute’s Fighting Irish march on to victory in a seemingly unwinnable game, his words are forever infused into the lexicon of American society inspiring generations of sports champions and a politician or two!
Hollywood has also provided many inspirational movie moments over the years marked by well-scripted battle cries and spiels: How about Brave Heart and the words of William Wallace “… they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom! Then there was the alien invasion in the sci-fi thriller Independence Day “… we will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” And of course, children on playgrounds everywhere can be heard parroting the passionate words of Peter as he rides into battle in The Chronicles of Narnia The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe “For Narnia!". Through cinema, we meet many great motivators - some real, others fictional but there is no doubt that the big screen has creatively and profitably tapped into the power of the battle cry.
History, Hollywood and halftime speeches all serve to remind us that when it comes to breaking unhealthy household habits and rallying the kids for a daily hour or two of outdoor family fun, remember, like most teachable moments in life, it’s not only what you say but, equally important, how you say it.
Effective communication skills are the foundation for building a great relationship with children and young adults. However, finding the right words to inspirit a child to drop the remote and run outside and play let alone plant a tree can prove challenging at times. What do you suppose a befitting battle cry would be in the epic match up Mother Nature verses Super Mario? We live in an increasingly complex and uncertain world that challenges us each and every day with a wide range of issues from climate change, technological advances, political divides and so on that can be hard for children to understand and equally difficult for adults to articulate.
We desperately want our children to know that an indoor sedentary lifestyle will contribute to weight issues and can lead to emotional or psychological challenges and life-threatening conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other disorders. Yes, Moms and Dads everywhere feel compelled to tell their kids on a daily basis that by simply connecting to nature they will do better in school, become good problem solvers, have a higher self-esteem and be in an altogether better position to solve the planet’s challenges from cleaning our oceans, lakes and streams to discovering cures for debilitating and life-threatening conditions. But you must admit, telling a child that he can help to eliminate world hunger and bring peace on earth by just simply getting off the couch and spending more time outside sounds a little more like a fairy tale then a fact of life to most children and young adults.
Don’t despair, a child’s deep comprehension of these matters will come later and, quite frankly, very naturally once you get them active outdoors. The formal education as to all the important benefits - from personal health to environmental stewardship - should be delivered in small consistent doses not in a lengthy and potentially lethal “benefit dump” every time you want to get them to go outside and engage with mother nature. So for now, I suggest that you begin by simply motivating and inspiring them to go outside in a way they will understand and enjoy.
If your child gives you that glazed over, deer in the head lights look as if your spewing incantations in some lost language from an indigenous people in a faraway place every time you mention the great outdoors , it’s probably time you mix things up a bit. Yes, it’s time to bring on your very own Backyard Battle Cry!
Your official call to arms for outside family fun, action and adventure should:
Sound Less Like This…
“All right children, it’s time to go outside and exercise because according to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity, nearly one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Children are developing adult diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and are at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer and other serious chronic conditions. So everybody please get up and let’s go outside and exercise”
And A Lot More Like This…
“Ok you little nature ninjas, it’s time to lace up those shoes, slather up with sunscreen and let’s get ready to ruuuuumble!
Do you hear the difference? Your children will for sure.
It’s easy for children and young adults to become parent-deaf and experience information overload so speak to them in a way that they can understand through enthusiasm, inner conviction and a touch of creativity; not with a tone of pain, punishment and parental proclamation that sounds more like a death sentence than a fun day at the park.
Much is at stake as we challenge inactivity, outdoor deprivation and environmental indifference in our own homes. Just keep it fun, family-focused and through action as well as words lead the charge for change in your own household. Although General Patton’s pep talks may not be appropriate for a child’s ears and there does not appear to be any signs of an alien invasion in my neighborhood, we can all brush up on the way we beckon today’s youth to the outside world.
Ok, parents are you ready to give your backyard battle cry a good try? Come on …get up, open the door and with your best guttural growl, bellow as loud as you can Chaaaaaaaarge! Now, when the dog stops barking and you reassure the next door neighbors that there is no need to call the police, slowly turn around and you will see your children standing right behind you inspired to step outside and take on the world.