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Families Rock

Submitted by mother_sheep on 2004-11-08

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Tips for the climbing parent, told by a Mom.

You’re a mom, you’re a climber. Obviously one aspect of your life (family) overrules the other. Weekend after weekend your single friends are climbing. They return from their day at the crag with stories of their accomplishments. You hide your jealousy and envy with stories of your adventures in diaper changing (told humorously) and the dangers of grocery shopping on a Friday evening.

You think to yourself, “There must be some way to maintain my parental responsibilities, involve my family in my passion and still be able to CLIMB!!!!” There is a way! It’s called integration. The process to integrate family with climbing may be a slow one but with the tips listed below, change may be on the horizon.

First you should choose a location that is safe and easily accessible. Make sure that there are no steep drop offs around the crag. Select an area that has a few easy to moderate climbs so that your child has a chance to participate in the climbing as well. Keep the approach to a minimum if possible. Tired children on the approach can quickly turn into cranky children at the crags.

Be prepared for anything and pack everything! Even if your child doesn't express interest in climbing right now, play it safe and have an extra harness on hand. Sometimes when a child see your enthusiasm, they want to give it a shot too. For the uninterested child, make sure you pack toys, books, snacks, etc . . . . The longer they stay entertained, the more you get to climb. Never allow your child to play under climbers or the climbing area. Rock fall should always be taken seriously even if it rarely occurs in the area in which you’re climbing. For the interested child, sometimes having their own gear adds to the outing by making them feel special and cool. Face it, we all know that gear is cool! Mandatory items are of course the harness and helmet. If you do not have a child’s climbing helmet, a bicycle helmet will suffice. There are several options to choose from when purchasing a harness for your child. Petzl, Mega Grip and Black Diamond, to name a few, all make children’s harnesses. They range in price from about $25.00 to $55.00. Shoes are another item to consider. Although not 100% necessary, they are helpful. Boreal, LaSportiva, Montrail and MadRock all make children’s climbing shoes. They range in price from $35.00 to $65.00. For the parent on a budget, aqua sox make for a nice substitution for those fast growing feet. Climbing in regular tennis shoes works well too but they can be bulky and a nuisance. Don’t forget extra clothing. Prepare for weather. Bring lots of water, sunscreen, bug spray (if necessary), a first aid kit and food. And by all means, do not forget the toilet paper!

As you tie your child in for the first time, teach them. Talk them through how to tie a figure eight. When tying the eight, go through the motions of tying the knot while talking them through it. A funny way for kids to learn the figure eight is to tell them the following saying while you tie, “Grab your brother by the neck, strangle him and poke his eyes out!” Walla! Instant figure eight. Okay, so maybe this is not the most PC way to teach little ones how to tie the knot, but they’ll laugh and they’ll remember it, especially if they have a pesky younger brother! Let them try to tie their own knots. Always double/triple check everything. Make sure the knots are good, helmet is on and the harness is double backed.

Once they’re tied in safely, do the swing test. Pick your child up by the rope and give them a slight nudge. Wait for a giggle and return him/her to the ground. This will show them before they begin to climb that the system is safe and that the rope and harness will hold them. Allow your child to climb up a few feet and then hang so they will feel secure in knowing that if they pop off the wall, they’re not going anywhere. Explain how the system works and how it will keep them safe. Sometimes for a child, descending the route can be the most intimidating part of the climb, as it should be. This is where your child will have to completely let go of the wall and allow you to lower them with nothing but air below. Once again, allow your child to climb a few feet up the route. Teach them where to put their hands and feet as they are lowering. Practice this a few times, increasing the height in which they descend from each time.

Your child may make it just a few feet up a climb or he or she may send in style. Regardless of how high they climb, be encouraging. If they barely make it off the ground, commend them for making it as far as they did. When your child says they’re done, listen to them. Never force your child to climb.

Stay one step ahead of your child. The following technique will prove to be motivating, rewarding and may even help the most fickle child progress his or her way up a climb. Climb the route before your child and place treats on holds along the way up the route. If you can, vary the treats from place to place so that they are receiving a new and exciting reward at each stop. This will encourage your child to reach higher and higher. Their thoughts may only be on getting to that next treat but they are really gaining so much more.

It works best to climb in groups with 3 or more adults when there are children around. There should always be someone on the ground, free to play with or chaperone the children. Make sure you take time to interact with your children throughout the day, even if they’re not climbing. Take a break, share a snack, and build a fort. Have a little fun and get dirty with your child so they know they still have your attention.

While on your outing, teach you child to be respectful of other climbers and their surroundings. Encourage them to use inside voices as others will be climbing and concentrating. Teach them that leave no trace applies to all humans, big and small.

The theme for the day is fun. As much as we parents like to think that we are in control, this is not always the case. A child’s demeanor can make or break the day. Expect the unexpected. Never assume that you’re going to have a full day of climbing, even though you might. More importantly, this is a day that you’re spending with the ones you cherish the most. You are integrating your child into your passion for climbing. When done properly the outing can turn into a very successful bonding experience, one that can be repeated over and over again and remembered for years to come.


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