By Sarah Schwab
My kids had several different reactions when I told them we were going to go tree climbing. “That’s cool” they said at first. It’s something different and even exciting.
Then, when we were on our way to the climb, my older son’s nerves started to kick in. “How high do we climb in the tree?” he asked. I told him it’s possible to get up pretty high, but assured him he wouldn’t have to go any higher than he was comfortable and could stop at any time.
Meanwhile, the youngest one was tired, hungry and a little cranky and decided he no longer wanted to go. “I changed my mind” he said. My daughter was quiet the entire time, just going along obediently.
“Oh boy,” I thought to myself, “this is going to be interesting.”
When we arrived and the kids started getting harnessed up, their demeanor changed. They learned the technique for climbing up the rope, and as their feet lifted off the ground, smiles spread across their faces. “Hey mom! Look at me!”
At this point, parents seem to make one of three choices…
Stay And Watch
Many parents stand on the sidelines, watching their kids ascend the rope and get up into the tree. They snap some pictures, enjoying the view from a distance.
As parents, we are used to sitting and watching as our kids play sports, perform in concerts, take lessons, play laser tag at a birthday party, or whatever. So it is understandable that many parents stand outside the roped-off perimeter, keeping their feet on the ground.
In some cases, when kids are registered to be climbing trees for a couple of hours, parents will drop them off at the beginning and pick them back up again at the end, taking the opportunity to have some time on their own. The kids are in good hands with the staff, and adults can get a little time to run errands or do something for themselves.
At the climb we did at Fox Brook Park, one mom ran around the lake getting her own exercise and checking in each time she passed by.
Tree climbing is one of the rare opportunities for parents to join in with their kids. That’s what I did! Once the kids were off the ground, I saddled up and started to climb as well. It’s really special to share an experience like that together.
When the kids said “Hey mom, look at this!” they knew I could really appreciate what they were showing me. We were able to laugh with each other, meet up in the branches of the tree, and try fun tricks together. I still got some great pictures, only from up in the tree rather than down on the ground.
Of course, I’m also the mom who suited up and played laser tag at the birthday party! I think parents should be able to try new things and have some fun as well, even if we feel a little scared or uncomfortable. If we want our kids to challenge themselves, then modeling that behavior is important. After all, kids are more likely to do what we do and not what we say.
Watch Your Words
Speaking of the things parents say, the rule of thumb is to say as little as possible. No matter which choice you make as a parent, one of the hardest but most important things is to keep your mouth shut.
Parents usually want to be encouraging, and it is tempting to yell things to the kids – “Climb higher! Keep going! Lift up your knees.” It is done with good intensions, but can actually end up negatively impacting everyone’s experience.
The kids are learning something new. Maybe they are focusing on the technique, maybe they are overcoming a fear of heights, maybe they just want to stop and enjoy the feeling and the view. When you aren’t up in the tree, you can’t relate to their experience. Even encouragement can cause distraction, both for your kids, the other climbers, and the staff.
An important piece of the tree-climbing experience is leaving the kids alone to do it themselves. Each kid learns in a different way, climbs at a different pace, and enjoys different aspects of the experience. It’s not a race, and there is no winning or losing.
My kids all had a blast, climbed different ropes, reached different heights. And in the end, we all had a shared memory we could talk about together. That seems like a win to me!
As an I.S.A. Board Certified Master Arborist, T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, T.C.I.A. Tree Care Specialist, and G.O.T.C. Recognized Senior Instructor, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.