If there is one thing climbing parents can’t wait for, besides a real good night sleep, is the first time they will get their little ones on the rock. My kids are now in their teens, so I decided to use my journey to help you benefit from the things that went well and hopefully, help you avoid the things that did not go so well.
Every climbing parent dreams of the day their son or daughter will put up the draws for them on their project or become the most reliable alpine climbing partner ever.
The moment you realize you are that much closer to get a new rope gunner.
My goal in introducing my kids to climbing was so that we could go out climbing as a family and hopefully go on road trips together. And because I believe that climbing also teaches a good lesson on setting goals and working through adversity to achieve them, I thought that learning that while having fun on the rock could be good them.
On a trip to Kamouraska
The most important thing we must remember as parents is to make climbing fun and enjoyable for kids. I know sometimes, as grown-ups, we take our climbing objectives very seriously. But for kids it has to be fun. When going climbing with little ones, as with all other outings, you are on their schedule. They may be keen to climb for a couple hours or they may get bored after half a climb; we must remember that as parents, we are playing the long game. We want them to fall in love with climbing and be in it for the long haul. If we impose a rigid schedule of what we think a full day of climbing should be, we will most likely burn them out. It’s OK if our little ones prefer playing in the creek or chasing bugs for a good part of the day while the adults climb. After all, the dirtier they are, the more fun they had, right?!
Keeping them safe in a potentially dangerous environment can not be overstated. Kids do not understand all the objective hazards that climbing entails. It is our job, as parents, to mitigate those risks. Keeping them at a safe distance of the wall when not climbing, having them wear a helmet when on or close to the rock and also choosing a crag that has a mostly flat ground are just a few things I recommend.
Harnesses can be ackward, so one thing we did to make our kids get used to the gear and wearing a harness was to set up zip lines in the backyard, or when we were out camping. They absolutely loved it and then did not have a problem with tying up on the rope when at the crag.
But even if they were fine wearing the harness, the skill that seemed hard for our kids to grasp was sitting in the harness and being lowered. Climbing was fun and kept them focused, but when they reached their high point, they realized how high they were and sometimes became gripped. After one or two "crisis situations", we made them climb up about 2 meters from the ground and allowed them to swing side to side, practicing different position and how they could brace themselves using their legs. Practicing walking backward is also easier to do when close to the ground, where adults can more easily coach the young climbers and help them if needs be.
Climbing equipment for kids
Depending on the height and weight of the child, you may want to get her started in a full body harness. This type of harness has a higher tie-in point and prevents the little climber from flipping upside down. Usually, once kids reach 30 kg, they will transition into a kids sit harness.
Kids climbing shoes are not a must but rubbing running shoes against the rock will destroy any footwear that does not have a protective rubber rand. Kids climbing shoes should be sized to limit heel movement but at the same time should be comfortable for little ones. You can start them in a bigger pair that they’ll wear with socks and remove the socks when their little feet grow. Remember, its all about making this fun and enjoyable for kids, performance shoes can come later.
A climbing helmet is a good idea for everybody, especially kids who are not fully aware of potential dangers like rock falls. Bike helmets are better than no helmets at all, but keep in mind that they are not design or certified to protect the user against falling rocks like a climbing helmet is.
In order to keep your little crusher entertained, make sure to bring a lot of toys, books and snacks. Kids rarely have the attention span to stay focused on climbing the entire day. You will have a longer climbing session if you can manage to keep the little ones entertained while outside. Once they are done with climbing, they may appreciate toys, books or just building dams in the creek.
Going out with other families or as part of a large group is also always a good idea. It makes looking after kids a lot easier than if you are only going out as a couple. In this situation, the belayer has double duties, keeping the climber safe and looking after the kids. Not an ideal situation. The minimum ratio should be at least 3 adults for 1 to 3 kids.
And well, sometimes you go on a road trip to Smith Rocks and end up at the Seattle Aquarium because everything you had planned, did not go as expected, and it is still ok.
How about you
This entire post has been focused on the kid’s experience. I would like to finish this with a bit of wisdom that was passed down to me by someone way wiser than I can ever wish to be: "Even if, for now, it may seem that you have no time to do the things you really love, like skiing and climbing. You must find the way and time to stay fit. "
Even as new parent, we must fight each day to stay active and not let atrophy wins. One day you will regain some control over your life and again be able to go play outside. When that day comes, you have to be ready to hit the ground running.
And if the day doesn't go as planned, take a deep breath, play in the dirt with your kid for a little while, maybe open a beer, and try again later!