Kids outgrow a lot of things. Clothes. Diapers. Midnight scream-fests. But there’s one thing they don’t transcend as they get older: Whining. My kids are now 10 and 13. They appreciate the oeuvre of Tom Waits and David Bowie. They compete in Math Olympiads and climb 5.11. They can cook homemade pasta. They engage in mature discussions about human rights and can name obscure African countries.
But they whine. Boy, do they whine. And the main time they do so is on hikes, a pastime they actually enjoy. It just comes out of them because people can whine when they’re exerting themselves, which happens often when you walk in the woods. Not only do my kids whine, but they bicker and get stuck in negative feedback loops (”I’m no good at this”; “She doesn’t talk to me so I don’t talk to her”), all of which distracts from the main reason of getting out into the woods in the first place: the serenity of it all. But I found a novel solution. I call it the poop-bag game. And yes, it’s exactly what you think.
We have a family dog. And to be a responsible dog owner, you must pick up their business. Every damn day. It’s not pleasant, but it’s also not horrible: You carry a supply of green, compostable bags with you, open one up, and grab the warm pile up without much ado. Then you carry it with you and dispose of it when you get a chance. When you’re on a trail and don’t want to leave canine surprises for fellow hikers, this can mean carrying it for a while until you reach civilization and a proper place of disposal.
Holding that steamy bag of dog droppings for the duration of a hike is what inspired this game. The rules are simple: If you exhibit bad behavior — whining, sullenness, sassiness, arguing, etc. — you must be the poop bag carrier until someone else engages in poopy behavior. Then, that person inherits the crap. The cycle continues until a receptacle is found.
Despite what you might imagine, the game is incredibly effective. It’s annoying to hold a bag of poop, but it’s not the — a minor inconvenience at most. It’s that middle ground that makes it the ideal punishment for crummy behavior because it provides just enough annoyance to put things into perspective. Besides, kids enjoy the good old-fashioned grossness of holding a stinky bag. They laugh. They hold their noses. They become self-aware. They quickly perk up. A few minutes with a warm plastic bag and my kids’ on-trail attitude improves greatly.
Better yet, it makes them realize just how you’re interacting with the world. No one wants to hear a whiner. And no one wants to admit that they’re whining. Until, that is, they are told to hold get stuck carrying steamy dog crap out when they should be enjoying themselves.
My wife and I were out on a hike with our son the other day and he was simply in a foul, whining, fifth-grade-boy mood. The type of whining that makes you physically want to scream as a parent. My wife looked at the dog: “Would he just poop!”
Sure enough, the dog did relieve himself and my son soon had something to carry. Soon after, he calmed down and moved past his unpleasant phase. Soon after, he calmed down and moved past his unpleasant phase. But it wasn’t long before I had the bag I had the bag because I’d been annoyed with my son. In fact, I had it for the rest of the hike because no one else’s behavior turned sour. It made me think: Why was I complaining so much? And I snapped out of it. Holding a hot bag of crap just puts things in perspective.