First time climbing with your child?


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Big Wall climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 1, 2012 - 12:27pm PT
Thinking the Gym is the best place to introduce my daughter to climbing. My daughter has always asked about my climbs, how my gear "stays in the rock" and but she has never really shown any interest to try it her self. She is a good little athlete so I think she will take to it fairly well. She went to camp and apparently had the time of her life on the climbing wall. I take her to the gym and teach her myself , sign her up for one of those clinics offered at the gym and have someone else teach her the basics or just go jump on a 5.nothing climb outside ?

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Oct 1, 2012 - 12:34pm PT
If you have a good easy outdoor climb in mind I'd recommend that. But I love being outdoors and tend to expect most kids do also.. perhaps not all kids feel the same though.

My dad got me started this way and as long as you are confident in belaying and setting up a good top-rope. I think it's a better atmosphere and more fun for kids. My father also taught us proper basic climbing, belay and rappel techniques and commands.

Either way I'm sure you both will have a great time.
the Fet

Oct 1, 2012 - 12:37pm PT
It's all good. My older son's first "climb" was a 4th class slab short roped to me. My younger's was an easy 5th outdoors TR. But a gym may be an less stressful controlled environment for them.

Kids often seem to take instruction better and push themselves more in a group environment with peer pressure (meaning just other kids there trying it) and someone teaching who isn't a parent. So a class at a gym could be great.

The main thing is allow them to do it at their own pace. Encourage them, but if they say they want to stop after going only 5 or 10 feet up, let them come down. If they feel uncomfortable trusting the rope and being lowered let them downclimb. One bad experience of being pushed too hard, too far out of their comfort zone and scared and they may avoid climbing for years. Make it fun!

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
Oct 1, 2012 - 12:45pm PT
Both mine started outside on easy 5th class. I top roped so I could talk to them and lower them easily if necessary. They loved it.

John M

Oct 1, 2012 - 01:02pm PT
My daughter has always asked about my climbs, how my gear "stays in the rock" and but she has never really shown any interest to try it her self.

Hmmm.. maybe you missed the signs. Not every kid is really forward with their desires. If they are asking about it, then that shows that they are interested. Maybe she doesn't feel comfortable asking if she can try it, or maybe she is afraid and just needs some encouragement. Or maybe she thinks that the only climbs are the really hard things that you do. Maybe she doesn't know that there are easy climbs.

Kids are smart. I would suggest asking her what she would like to do. Give her a few options and see what sounds good to her.

Just make certain you avoid having your own expectations. She might be very scared the first few times, and then something clicks and she takes right to it. Expectations are one of the biggest mistakes the male parent makes. Plus kids are really good at picking up hidden signals. But they also misread them because they don't' have the experience. . If you are nervous, then she could take it to mean that you don't think that she can do it, when in fact it might just be your own nerves about keeping your kid safe, or your own nerves of really wanting them to have a fun time.

Oct 1, 2012 - 01:35pm PT
Climbing with your kids is THE BEST! I'd sign them up for every damned class and then spend time with them. I took mine out before there were gyms and they were not interested. Son went off to college and picked it up without me. It's more than a tad worrisome. Wish I could have been around to mentor him.

2nd time climbing together seen here, the lad following the FA of the route Jim Opdycke humorously named "Child Abuse".

Jeff Thomas photo.

and rap/kicking the crap and the loose stuff on the route he later named "Runaway Weasel".

Following me on the last pitch of Monkey Face to the cheers and catcalls of people below.

We got some good climbing in at City of Rocks and Red Rocks this last spring break. Got to Shepard him on his first gear lead.

Social climber
700' up
Oct 1, 2012 - 01:38pm PT
I also vote for outside, and if you can, show your daughter the whole process: setting up the anchor (hopefully you get to place some gear), how belaying works, how to tie in, etc.

And yes: Be patient, calm and understanding if they're not feeling it on that particular day.

Big Wall climber
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 1, 2012 - 01:45pm PT
Thank you all for the insight!
It was kinda funny, she came home from camp and promptly explained how the YDS works. She worked her way through the climbs at camp and it sounded like she cruised through the 5.8 climb. She then got stuck at the "crux"( in her words!) on the 5.9 route. Tried it 10 times or something like that and could not do it. Her new 11 yr old life ambition is to climb a 5.9.
My daughter and I spend quite a bit of time in the car diving to her soccer practices, games and everything that come with competitive soccer so we end up having some good conversations. During this time, she announced to me that she is ready to do a 5.8 but not a 5.9 outdoors. Probably 95% of my lifetime climbing experience is not in a gym so she is ready to go with me ! I had to keep from laughing while I formulated my speech on how indoor and outdoor climbing and the associated ratings are not really comparable. She also enjoyed the "cracks on the wall.... especially the chimney" Ha , I think I am in trouble!
Seeing her desire to go climbing made me beam with joy and it also scares me that one day she will demand I climb some offwidth horror show with her! My feeling is that I will take her to a low grade 1 pitch climb at an off peak time and just have fun and see where it goes.

rich sims

Social climber
Oct 1, 2012 - 02:15pm PT
My vote is outside if you have a safe area.
Living in So Cal and Colorado we never had a shortage of choices.
I think you can learn too many bad habits fast inside.
The most important thing besides safety is FuN. No agenda let them set the pace of learning.
Just my 2Cs

I never told my girls about climbs and ratings till we started climbing at gyms, they figured out quickly I had not told them the whole story LOL
They were always competing at a healthy level in sports and games so when we started in at the gyms leading, pushing the numbers was just part of the game.

rich sims

Social climber
Oct 1, 2012 - 02:28pm PT
And be prepared to accept that fun for them may mean no climbing at all.

Some days my kids just don't wanna climb, which can be a bummer for me, but I've learned not to pressure them.
Too true
amen, as driven as I was Im not sure how I pulled it off.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Oct 1, 2012 - 02:30pm PT
Bouldering is great with kids. They can run arond and have fun and you can climb as much ad you want to.

Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Oct 1, 2012 - 02:38pm PT
With my kids, it seems that the more I push the more they don't want to do it, and the more I ignore it the more they ask for it :)

Maybe rock scrambling and bouldering is an easy way to start, to incite the passion if they haven't been exposed to it. In the beginning, the gear might slow things down and get in the way of them just having fun.

Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
Oct 1, 2012 - 03:31pm PT
My kids responded very well when they could try it outdoors AND a friend was coming, too. In fact, my duaghter wanted to practice the route we were going to do ahead of time so she could be successful in front of her friend. Keep it very easy and find that fine line between encouragement and coercion.....

Big Wall climber
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 1, 2012 - 03:34pm PT
Thanks for all the feedback. All good stuff. It definitely confirms my feeling that a mellow outdoor top rope is the way to go. I am probably romanticizing the first climbing experience with dad a bit but outside would definitely be more memorable and just more fun.
Now I was wondering if I leave a fixed rope in place on a popular beginner top rope for a week or so, will someone steal it? Im thinking my daughter can work her first project and it would be convenient.
Sorry...could not resist.

Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Oct 1, 2012 - 07:12pm PT
And be prepared to accept that fun for them may mean no climbing at all.

My oldest is a girl, who turns 9 next month. My middle son is 6. I've tried to get them into climbing simply by exposing them to it. My girl, who does gymnastics, automatically gravitated toward gym climbing. My son, was bored inside, but went bat sh#t when I took him outside and he could scramble around on boulders, explore for "caves" and look at lizards. Just like his old man actually. Now, he is totally psyched to go "bouldering", which for him is just screwing around with some climbing involved. No problem. Just planting that seed.

With my daughter, I've just tried to instill a love of being outside--hiking, exploring, wading creeks. Only recently has she made the connection between climbing inside and the possibilities outside. Now they're both psyched to go to Joshua Tree, ride the Tramway and explore the bouldering up there, etc.

I'm really going to enjoy the next few years.

Oct 1, 2012 - 08:02pm PT
A couple of observations/recollections from when I took my munchkins out on the rock. My girls were younger at the time than your daughter is so much may not apply.

Before they climbed, we would wander around the base of crags and they would place gear and see if Dad could yank it out. A fun game.

We had ground school. I would anchor them to the trailer hitch of my truck, they would tie in, rig their ATCs, and then lower me from a standing position down to the lawn. Later, I would give myself some slack, run like hell, and they would stop me. More fun. We’d play with knots, coiling ropes, and such.

They dug gear – especially if it matched their outfits. After one Tuolumne outing, the younger talked me into buying her a cheeseburger at the Ahwahnee on the drive home. Before we went in, she grabbed a sling and a few cams that accentuated her attire. A lady needs proper accessories, ya know? She swaggered into the dining room. The waiter asked if he could take the rack and place it over the back of her chair. Classic.

Buying them their own chalk bags was like shopping for a wedding dress. Good Lord! They looked at every possible option in order to make the appropriate fashion statement.

Though they have not kept on climbing, we all cherish those adventures. The time spent together doing ‘grown up’ stuff is treasured.

Here’s my 7 year old rope gun, fully accessorized.

DMT is wise.

Trad climber
New Durham, NH
Oct 1, 2012 - 08:42pm PT
Here's the full story of my daughter's climbing initiations...

Travels With Meaghan
rich sims

Social climber
Oct 1, 2012 - 11:46pm PT
Oh boy having two daughters
I forgot about that part. Purple rope for one blue (pink was not available) for the other. Custom made chalk bags and harnesses and painting designs on their Chuck Taylors/ stealth rubber with fabric paint shoes. The fabric paint faded but the Chuck Taylors continued into their teens.

Oct 2, 2012 - 12:40am PT
I don't know much about this but my $0.02 is this:

Step 1: Take them with you climbing as much as you can, even if they aren't actively climbing.

Step 2: At the gym, put them in the harness and swing them...don't climb at all, just push them...they get giddy at the swing, and learn to absolutely love the rope. (age 2-3)

Step 3: Someone may have mentioned this, but its really applicable at age 5 and up. ALWAYS have buddies around. When outside, make a point to camp and do kid stuff (roasting marshmellows, fire is always good, throwing rocks into the river, etc.). If you get a pitch or two in great, but don't count on it.

Step 4: So far my kids have all gone through this. Around 7 they begin to think logically and have to relearn to trust the rope. Ie. they start to get the whole cause-and-effect and understand logically that hitting the ground is real and deadly. DO NOT FORCE THEM through this, they will get through it on their own.

The whole goal of the above is to make climbing more than just a sport or activity. It becomes part of them, something they ache to do, look forward to, and miss when they can't do it. A minor argument with the wife that i "won" has never made me feel better than what happened several years ago. She wanted to go to Disneyland and my boys "demanded" to go to Yosemite!!!!!!!!!!!!

My kids, for the record are: 13, 10, and 6 and are some of the finest, toughest little climbers i've met. This thread brings a tear to my eyes as i know, that the future comes, that they will leave and my "bestest" climbing partners will move on...

Big Wall climber
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 2, 2012 - 11:11pm PT
Love hearing the great experiences. Per DMT, listening to the kid(s) seems to be the big factor with me. I have never wanted to push my kids to climb. I have always found climbing to be a very personal experience and I know I have gone through periods where my desire to climb was low and other times in my life where being roped in is all that I want to do. I can only imagine that sharing a rope with your kid could be very rewarding if done properly. I can also image it will be interesting to watch my ability decline with age while they improve and become stronger!
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