Bouldering for Toddlers and Kids: Safety, Tips and Rules


I train in a climbing gym that regularly has kids of all ages bouldering. I’ve also got a son who’s nearly two years old and I want to take him climbing with me within the next couple of years. So I’ve been doing a lot of research on the subject of how to be as safe as possible with your child in a climbing/bouldering gym. I’ve also been looking at tips on how to help them learn at a quick rate, different games you can play to make it interesting, and the rules you as a parent should abide by so you don’t infringe on other climbers around you.

So, what’s the best way to get into bouldering with toddlers and kids? Well firstly I wouldn’t bother bouldering or climbing outdoor with your child when there’s perfectly good climbing gyms all around the world that are generally safe and the staff can offer help in a variety of ways. Get your children climbing as soon as possible if you’d like them to progress at a quick rate. This, of course, will depend on the minimum age in a climbing gym – some gyms have no minimum age whereas others can be up to 12 years old. For fast progress I would definitely advise getting your child into a weekly kid’s climbing class in a bouldering gym if you can find one that offers that service. There are also a few different bouldering games you can play with kids to engage their climbing brains and limbs. When bouldering with or without children, safety is always paramount so you’ve got to set rules with your child. They must understand that these rules must be followed at all times for their own safety and for people around them. I’ve come up with 8 rules to start you off. The 8 rules are:

  1. No running around
  2. They must follow your instructions at ALL times
  3. They must not start a climb without your permission
  4. They must stick by your side at all times as climbers can fall from above onto them
  5. They must not climb above or below anyone else
  6. No screaming or yelling unless it’s an emergency
  7. No barefoot climbing
  8. Do not touch anyone else’s equipment (such as chalk)

You should also follow rules yourself so your toddler does not interfere with other climbers and/or cause a danger to themselves or others. I’ve come up with 8 more rules for you as a parent to start you off. The 8 rules you should follow are:

  1. Keep your child at an arm’s reach distance
  2. Do not walk (with or without your child) underneath other climbers
  3. When your child is climbing, make sure you spot them correctly
  4. Do not let your child into over 18 only areas
  5. Know the actual climbing gym rules
  6. If the climbing gym is packed, think about not coming in with your toddler
  7. Spot any risks before they pose a threat
  8. Do not let your child bring food or drink onto the climbing mats

I’m going to address all of the points above in more detail throughout this article. I’ve included 8 climbing games you can play with your kids and I’ve also gone through the rules above. Read on if you’d like more to find out more.

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Boulder Indoor With Your Child

While I think it’s great if you can start your child climbing on rocks early, I’m not sure how safe it really is. Indoor climbing has the advantage of very soft and spongy mats whenever you fall, which happens a lot to most beginners. Outdoor mats aren’t as spongy and you sort of have to learn HOW to fall on them. It’s also a lot easier for your child to see the holds as they are bright in color. If they were to climb outside they would have to sort of guess as to where the hold was next. This isn’t always a bad thing as it promotes on-the-spot thinking, however your kid is a beginner and should be learning in a safe environment with easy to spot holds. The climbing gym staff are also always around to help with problems or enquiries.

Start Your Child Climbing Early

The earlier you start your child at any sport, the better they’ll learn it. Between the ages of 0 and 7, children are in their programming years. They are easily influenced by external activity. This is because they are mainly in theta and alpha brain wave states. These brain waves states are the same as when someone is under hypnosis or in deep meditation. Therefore, between the ages of 0-7 is the best time to program your child. I would obviously advise you to wait until they are ABLE to climb, so maybe wait until they’re at least 3 when they have the dexterity to do so. If you teach them efficiently and correctly then they will learn at a very fast rate. Therefore I’d say you should start your kid climbing anywhere after 3 years old, and if possible before 7 years old for maximum learning capability. At one of the climbing gyms I go to they actually do a few classes per week specifically for kids to learn how to climb. If you can get your child into one of these just once a week I’m sure they’ll progress quite fast.

Indoor Rock Climbing Games to Play for Kids

There are many bouldering games you can play with your kids to warm them up and help their overall climbing technique while keeping things fun. Here are eight games you can play with groups of children and/or with a child on their own:

  1. Chaos – Chaos is played with a group of children. Half of the kids start on one side of the wall and the other half starts on the opposite side. Both teams need to get to the other side of the wall by climbing. Once they meet each other in the middle they need to climb – SAFELY – around each other. The first team with all kids on the other side of the wall wins.
  2. Silent Feet – This game can be played with you and your own kid or in a group. One person/child is blindfolded and given a handful of bean bags. The others have to traverse around the walls past them as quietly as possible. The blindfolded person then throws the bean bags at the others traversing. Points are scored with every hit.
  3. Silent Chaos – A combination of the above! Two halves of the kids going from opposite sides of the wall while one blindfolded person throws bean bags at them!
  4. Fetch – This is a game you can play with a group of kids or when they’re on their own. Place something that they’ll want (like a chocolate bar for example) on one of the holds – make it obvious where the “prize” is. You can give them a set of rules – either they can only use a certain color climb, or they have to get there in fewer than 3 moves – or you can just let them free climb. This will teach your child technique and movement because they’ll actually be motivated to get to a certain hold on a climb.
  5. Seek – Seek is similar to the game above except you’ll have hidden the chocolate bar on a hold somewhere on the wall and they have to find it. You can give them a few clues if you want – for example, what color hold it’s on etc.
  6. Shark Attack – A group of children pretend to swim on the mats. When you say “Shark!” they have to jump on the wall. The last person on the wall with both their feet planted loses.
  7. Natural Disasters – This is a game for kids’ parties (preferably private parties). Please don’t play this one in busy climbing gyms. It’s a really good game to wear children out at the end of the climbing session. Here’s how it works: You shout different things and the children respond with an action. When you shout “Food!” all the children have to somehow get their feet off the floor. If you shout “Smoke!” the children have to lie on their front and cover their faces. If you shout “Lava!” the children have to run around on their tip toes. If you shout “Avalanche!” they have to crouch down at the bottom of the climbing wall. The faster you get the more it’ll wear the kids out.
  8. Animals – This is another one for private parties or quiet climbing gyms. You need three different parts of the wall. One part will be named “Air”, another will be named “Water” and another will be named “Land”. You will shout out different animals and the children will have to jump on to the wall that corresponds with where the animal lives. For example, if you shout out “Eagle” they will jump on to the air wall. However, if you shout out “Hippo” then this can be the water or land wall, so you can therefore shout out animals like that to confuse them a little bit.
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Rock Climbing Safety and Rules for Children

Safety should be paramount in an indoor climbing gym. In a busy gym there are hazards pretty much everywhere. You must always pay attention of what (or who) is around you and the kid(s) you’re with. To make it easier for you, you should give children rules before they step onto the climbing mats. You should also follow rules yourself. No one wants to be THAT parent who is met with groans as they walk through the door by the climbing gym staff. I’ve come up with 8 rules your kids should follow when bouldering and I’ve come up with 8 more rules you as a parent should follow.

8 Rules Your Kids Should Follow in an Indoor Climbing Gym

No running around

This is a very reasonable rule. Not only is it extremely dangerous, it can also be very annoying for other climbers around. The staff may also get irritated.

They must follow your instructions at ALL times

If the child does not follow your instructions as their guardian then you do not have full control over them in the climbing gym.

They must not start a climb without your permission

This is for obvious safety reasons. There may be somebody who’s already started a climb that crosses the climb they’re about to try out.

They must stick by your side at all times as climbers can fall from above onto them

Similar to the no running rule, if the child you’re taking care of decides to wander away from you this can endanger the child and even other climbers. You don’t want someone to land on your child due to them not being by your side, do you?

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They must not climb above or below anyone else

If they climb above someone else then they might fall on them. If they climb below someone else then they might get fallen on.

No screaming or yelling unless it’s an emergency

Screaming and yelling can be very irritating to other climbers and a lot of the time it also signals to the staff that there is a medical emergency. If your child is screaming or yelling a lot then the staff won’t be listening out as much for urgent callouts.

No barefoot climbing

This can injure their feet and toes very easily. It’s also quite unclean.

Do not touch anyone else’s equipment (such as chalk)

For obvious reasons, your children shouldn’t be using anyone else equipment (unless they are told they can). It’s not theirs and it may annoy other climbers.

8 Rules You Should Follow as a Parent or Guardian in a Climbing Gym

Keep your child at an arm’s reach distance

This is so they are not interrupting other climbers and you know exactly where they are at all times.

Do not walk (with or without your child) underneath other climbers

You don’t want anyone to fall on you or your child. This is very dangerous.

When your child is climbing, make sure you spot them correctly

If your child is climbing quite high then make sure you can soften their fall by spotting them correctly.

Do not let your child into over 18 only areas

If you let your child into over 18 areas, not only is it rude but you risk being barred from the gym.

Know the actual climbing gym rules

It’s always good to know exactly what the gym expects of you and your child when you climb.

If the climbing gym is packed, think about not coming in with your kid

Sometimes it’s just best not to be in a jam packed climbing gym when you’re looking after your child as they’re harder to control and therefore it’s more dangerous.

Spot any risks before they pose a threat

Make sure you do a mild risk assessment of every passing moment while your child is on the wall or around other climbers.

Do not let your child bring food or drink onto the climbing mats

Food and drink can ruin the climbing mats and children are the ones who are usually the ones to be the messiest.

Why is climbing important for toddlers and children? Climbing increases dexterity and encourages a problem solving brain. It’s also good exercise.

Paul

I'm the owner of Rock Climbing Central and I fell in love with climbing about 5 years ago as soon as my feet touched the wall. Since then all I've pretty much done is research about climbing and climb whenever possible.

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