How to Rock Climb with Kids

Your rock climbing hobby does not need to vanish when you become a parent. You may need to take a hiatus (or a few, especially if you have more than one child), but don’t think you need to sell your gear when Little One comes on the scene.

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DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be instruction for setting anchors, inspecting gear, fitting harnesses, etc. I strongly recommend learning how to climb and set anchors, etc. from a professional or someone who has been trained by professionals. These are simply climbing tips for families who already know how to safely climb. 

Here are some tips for how to share rock climbing with your kiddos (and be glad you did/do): 

I. Before heading out, decide on your goals for your family’s climb.

If your main reason for taking your kids climbing is FAMILY/TEAM BUILDING, have each person carry something, encourage everyone to cheer for everyone else, and assign the kids to check-up on another child throughout the day (this tip is from Peter Brown Hoffmeister in Let Them Be Eaten By Bears). Also, if family/team building is a high priority, keep the routes simple.

If your biggest goal is BUILDING RESILIENCE in your family members, go when the weather isn’t perfect and the mosquitoes are abundant, gently talk your kids through bloody knuckles on a crack climb, and push them to give it their all.

If you want to help them OVERCOME FEAR, tell stories of times when you’ve been afraid. Show them how to take deep breaths and calm themselves down. Talk them through the fear. Sometimes it helps to acknowledge their fear (“I know it’s scary and you want to be on the ground with us”), and then quickly move to instructions (“so right now you need to hold onto your knot with both hands….”)

If you simply hope for your kids to LOVE NATUREhave a scavenger hunt and allow them to explore while waiting for their turn, talk about the clouds and the rock formations and the toad that just hopped past. Give them ample time to just play in nature. 

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Can you see the man’s face looking toward the right at the top? It’s known as Indian Head and is kind of famous at Interstate State Park on the Wisconsin side next to the Echo Lake Trail.

II. Keep it short. If you want little humans with short attention spans to enjoy a day on the rocks, less is more. My husband and I have taken quite a number of children-teenagers rock climbing (between instructing at a Boy Scout camp and taking church youth and our own kids), and we can only recall a handful of young climbers who couldn’t get enough. Often, young children are content after climbing once. Twice for the average teenager (though if they enjoy their first climb, they are more likely to climb on and on and on) . If you take the time to set up a rappel and three different climbing routes, young kids will be bored before the anchors are set.

III. Life with kids requires snacks. As long as the snacks are easy to transport, easy to clean up, salty (at least some of them to keep electrolyte levels up), and plentiful, everyone should avoid the hangry stage. Water is an obvious must.

IV. Bug Repellent and Sunscreen are usually necessary.

I hope these tips are helpful to you and your young climbers. I’d love for you to comment with your positive suggestions for sharing your rock climbing hobby with your family, youth groups, etc. Climb on!

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