We spoke to parents at TCA to find out how they’ve faced and conquered the challenge of climbing with kids.
How to approach
Climbing with kids
Becoming a parent can be demanding. If you’re a climber already, you may be worried about juggling pregnancy, parenthood and your climbing routine. Or if you haven’t yet discovered the joy of climbing, you may feel that, with kids, you’re better off bottling up that curiosity.
We’re here to let you know that it is possible. The ideas below will help you navigate some of the challenges. What’s most important to remember is that there is comfort in community. As you start out, you are likely to meet some like-minded parents and find yourself with a great bunch of new friends. Take each day as it comes – and celebrate the little wins.
YOU CAN CLIMB AT ANY AGE
Climbing really is a special sport – when you look around in the gym you’ll see people of all ages on the walls. Problems (and climbers) come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s no need to feel discouraged. You can start at any age.
HOW TO ENCOURAGE KIDS TO CLIMB
Derry (Operations Manager Glasgow) knows how: “Getting your little one climbing is great fun! They like to copy you, so bring your climbing shoes and lead by example. Indoors or outdoors I always like to take a well-loved toy for my daughter to ‘rescue’ from up the wall. You can start this any time after they’ve learned to crawl! Once they get a bit older you can start weaving stories into the rescue mission – my daughter likes to be ‘Penny’ from Fireman Sam to rescue her furry friends!”
EASE THEM IN SLOWLY
Make sure you ease kids into climbing and don’t push them towards a panic. You don’t want them to develop unnecessary fear from a young age.
DON’T LIFT THEM OFF THE TOP OF A PROBLEM
Always get them to climb back down themselves so that they understand not to climb beyond their comfort zone. Discourage them from topping out on a boulder if you think they might get scared.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND LOTS
They grow so fast, so buying gear when they are tiny isn’t always the best approach. You can rent a harness for your littlest ones at our roped centres to get them climbing from the youngest age.
RESTARTING – USE TIME WISELY
If you’re not able to make it to the gym so often, but you want to maintain your fitness, there’s lots you can do at home. Lockdowns have taught us that. Try a pull-up bar, fingerboard and simple core routine. Kate’s tip is: ‘Flexibility! Fit in climbing and training when you can. If you wait for the right time it may never happen! So for example, I’ll do my press and row/shoulder shrugs/weighted pull-ups while I cook dinner.” Some exercises will have to wait. “It’s much harder to do press-ups and core with a toddler climbing on you!”
Top tips for
Covid rules permitting, TCA operates a regular Tiny Academy in Bristol and Glasgow for parents and 0-4 years. This is run in a safe, cordoned-off area, with one of our instructors on hand to give you tips, and to watch the children while you climb. We also run varied kids courses for older age groups.
LEARN ETIQUETTE EARLY
Bristol’s Tiny Academy coach Ros has some great advice: “When bouldering indoors the top skills children can learn are down-climbing, and staying close to their supervising adult. Habits like running off under other climbers, and jumping off at the top of the wall are dangerous, hard to break, and won’t make your family very popular to be around at indoor walls or trips out. In contrast, children who understand the hazards around them and act accordingly are an asset and can encourage other children to behave the same way.”
SHARE THE LOAD
If you know other families with kids, try to find a time you can all come in and rotate climbing and kid-watching. You may also be surprised to find that lots of your friends without kids are more than happy to hang out with yours while you climb!
TIMING IS KEY
Selene suggests: “Arrive just before naptime. Leave the little one in a pram nearby and try to squeeze in as much climbing as you can. Ask staff what days are for routesetting. This way you can avoid any loud drilling sounds.”
MAKE THE MOST OF COURSES
Once they’re finally old enough to register for a climbing course, this is your perfect moment to have a climb all by yourself or with other parents.
A great tip from Nick is to get your kid to take photos of you while you’re climbing on a problem. This way they stay occupied and you can get a few quick ones in. Just make sure they don’t leave any hard objects on the mats.
Top tips for
Going to a crag with a kid adds a whole extra layer of research. You have to carry out an extensive risk assessment: is there loose rock, is there a comfortable base in between climbs, is the approach easy? It’s definitely worth scoping out crags in advance before committing to a family day out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
TCA director Rob says, “When venturing outside make sure you’re well prepared to be safe whilst keeping the enjoyment levels high. A short walk in, friendly conditions and appropriate problems/routes will help keep their interest and motivation levels up. Being near other stuff to do is important so you can move on once the kids have had enough.”
GOOD GRADE RANGE
Try to pick a crag with a decent grade range. However, harder grades don’t have to be instantly written off. Some might have a stepladder first half, and a crux at the top. In this case, you could set up a top rope and have the little ones see how far they get. (Great tip from Ros, is some of the harder routes in Tirpentwys, South Wales! Bristol locals go check them out).
Ros has more advice for the outdoors: “etiquette and safety are my number 1 for indoor and outdoor. If you dial safe behaviour, you are free to have more fun. My children and I all wear helmets at crags, they know that rocks can crumble and fall. I discuss checks, communications, what to do if anyone feels scared or uncomfortable and reinforce safe behaviour with lots of acknowledgment and praise.” If your child is not climbing, even a bike helmet is a good idea for spending time at the crag.
MAKE IT BABY-FRIENDLY
You’ll sometimes see parents climbing at the crag with their babies bundled up a safe distance from the wall. Decide for yourself what you feel comfortable with. As Derry says, “Most crags with short walk-ins can be made baby-friendly. I’ve often taken my baby bouncer up with me to crags and just popped Fern in that for a few hours. A baby bouncer attached to an appropriate first bolt is also always fun! Once they’re walking about it gets a bit trickier. You don’t want the base of the crag to have any steep drop-offs. Other than that, the world is your oyster!”
COMMUNITY IS KEY
Wendy, local Bristol icon, recommends inviting your friends: “We are lucky enough to know other people with babies and young children who also climb. This has meant we have been able to share child care and still climb. It is different climbing at a crag with a baby in tow. A bit more hectic, a bit less chilled but still lots of fun and completely manageable. My number 1 tip would be to find other parents who have the same passion for climbing as you can visit crags/the wall together. There are some great family crags where everyone can have a good time and you can tick off some routes/problems.” And don’t forget to invite those without kids. Remember, the modern family is made up of friends. It truly takes a village. If you don’t yet know other climbing parents, Tiny Academy or kids courses could help.
Rob’s favourite family crags
For Glasgow climbers – a sport crag that’s easy to set up top-ropes. It has a quick walk-in, short accessible routes, it’s sheltered and close to Crieff for cake and ice cream!
For Bristol climbers – a sport crag that’s easy to set up top-ropes. Straight off an amazing beach with short accessible routes near ice cream! Be sure to check the tides.
Font, near Paris is amazing for families – Bouldering in a beautiful, sandy forest. Find the kids’ circuits and just enjoy the vibe in this magical bouldering destination.
Still not sure?
What are the benefits of climbing?
So, you’re new to climbing or you’re having doubts about whether to continue. You might be wondering what would you and your kids actually get out of it all? There are lots of benefits from climbing.
Benefits for Kids
- Climbing is great for co-ordination, spacial awareness and flexibility.
- Climbing can help kids learn to socialise. They will mix with others and eventually be used to speaking to people of all ages.
- Climbing can help kids feel more comfortable in crowds and help them to deal with busy surroundings.
- Climbing is a form of exercise that uses the whole body. Your kids will develop a well-rounded fitness.
- “My favourite benefit of taking kids climbing as opposed to other sports is that it’s inclusive” Ros explains, “parents and children both get to participate. So many activities are ‘for children’ but with climbing, your children get to watch you learn, try, practice, fall and progress, and that can be very inspiring.”
- If you take your kids climbing outdoors, they will become more comfortable in nature, helping them to develop respect and appreciation for their surroundings.
Benefits for Parents
- You can do it at your own pace. Unlike many other sports, stopping and starting is fine.
- Parents will benefit from an easy, scalable path into full-body fitness.
- It is something you can enjoy together – even when you climb at different levels.
- As for postpartum exercise, Derry has some great tips: “Getting back climbing post-partum is a great way of doing some exercise. Climbing is a low impact sport so great for recovering mums, just take it easy, down climb and avoid overhangs until your core has recovered.”
- Joining a group at TCA or going for a climb with other parents could help to avoid isolation at the beginning of parenthood.
- Regular climbing sessions are an easy way to help you build a strong network for a lifetime of fun.
WHAT NEXT? TCA runs courses for new climbers as well as a range of courses for young ones. Visit the locations page to see what's available in your nearest centre or swing by for a look.