Climbing Gym Etiquette With Kids

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Tips for taking kids to the climbing gym.

There are few things more troublesome than going to a new place and not knowing the spoken and unspoken rules.  Add to the uncertainty the presence of children, and it can be quite intimidating to enter into unknown territory.   For those new to indoor climbing and/or new to indoor climbing with kids, here are a few tips for bringing your kids to the gym.

Those that know me will laugh at the irony. . . My children (and therefore I) have been guilty of breaking many of these.  Therefore, the best, most important rule, is the first one.

Climbing Gym Etiquette

1.  Know when to cut your losses.

When you walk into the gym and it is packed with people. . . this is not the time to bring your young children and still hope to get in a climb yourself.  There is no safe place for them to play and unless they are stationary (please tell me how you do this!) they are risk of being landed on and/or in the way with every step they take.   Solution: Make the decision as to which adult will be climbing.  The kids, of course, are welcome to toprope.  The parents will need to make sure that there is one responsible adult in charge of corralling the kids while the other adult/adults partake in the climbing.  Nothing good can come of unsupervised kids running or milling around a crowded gym.  I know. I know.  It hurts to give up.  Sometimes that is your best option.

2.  Know the climbing gym’s rules.

Some gyms have rules as to what is age appropriate for bouldering.  For example, some bouldering walls restrict children under the age of 12 from bouldering even with their parent’s permission/supervision.    Others allow kids of all ages to climb but do not want them in certain areas.

3.  Identify the risks.  

What areas are dangerous or unsupervised?  Where might your child find themselves in a situation that isn’t optimal?  Just because the gym allows your child to wander onto the top of the (insert dangerous area here: bouldering wall, overlook, topout, etc.,) doesn’t mean that it is safe.

4.  Watch your child.

When they are climbing. . .where ever they are climbing.  They always need a padded landing and a good spot (some will argue that bad spotting is worse than no spotting, so give a proper spot).  Just because you know to move the crash pad under the climber doesn’t mean that they do.  Knowing how to land is also a great skill to teach your child. Supervise.  Climbing gyms are not a “free play” area that is safe no matter what you do or how you act.   Teach children to use crash pads and ask for a spot.  Staff members are generally not babysitters.  They are not responsible for teaching/watching/correcting your child.

5.  Keep food and juice off the carpet/flooring.

This is usually (but not always) a gym rule.  You know your kids better than the college-aged gym staff.  As such, you know that the applesauce will spill no matter what you do to stop it.  Eat in areas that have easily cleaned flooring.  Allow children to drink only water on the gym floor.  This will go exceedingly far to making friends with gym staff.

6.  Keep crying/yelling/whining to a minimum.

Yes, this one is funny. You, more than the next guy, know exactly how annoying and distracting it is to climb with a child who is screaming, a parent who is yelling, and/or a family who is at the end of their rope.  If you have lost control and know that it is going to be awhile before you get it back. . . see point number one.  The person who is leading a hard route or trying to have a relaxing trip to the gym is not going to appreciate your child’s misbehaving any more than you do.  While it’s a free country and you are welcome to stay and torture everyone with your tired/cranky/notgoingtolisten child, it’s best to cut your losses.  Take a step outside, see if you can distract and redirect.  If that doesn’t work, live to fight another day.  Everyone will be appreciative, especially your child.  Not to mention the dad or mom who left their kids at home so that they could have an hour of peaceful climbing.

Some First Time Climbing Gym Tips:

Watch where you (and your child) walk.

Do not walk directly under climbers on any wall anywhere.

Walk behind the climber and the belayer (when at all possible).

Do not step on rope.

Always remember to look up (some gyms have roof climbing above the middle of the gym, it never hurts to know who might be up there).

Do not climb barefoot.

Do not touch anyone else’s gear. Do not allow your children to do so.

Don’t be those parents.

You don’t want to be those parents. . . the ones that the staff and other members of the gym groan at when you walk in.  I know, sometimes it is unavoidable.  Kids aren’t always cooperative and sometimes you just want to climb.  Keep these tips in mind and try your best to know when you have passed “cute” and “entertaining” and moved into the territory of “annoying” and “dangerous”.

What tips aren’t listed?  What advice would you offer?

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About Laura Boniello Miller

Laura Miller is a internet marketing professional and a mother of two. Her interests include sport climbing, bouldering, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. She believes that playing outdoors is integral to health and well being, and that if your kids aren't dirty, they haven't had enough fun.