Does your gym have child care facilities? Mine neither. But when my workout has to happen while my child care can’t, I pack up The Child and take her to the gym with me. For people at corporate gyms I imagine this may not be possible, but for those of us who use CrossFit boxes, garage gyms, and serious strength training facilities where there is more of a family atmosphere, it could be feasible.
Naturally, I don’t bring her along all the time– no matter how much you love your kids, it’s healthy to get out of each other’s faces once in a while– but I’ve begun to see that having her tag along is actually beneficial for both of us, in big ways. Here are my reasons– and my methods– for taking my daughter to the gym with me.
Reason #1: Show Her What Strong Looks Like
I monitor her media diet pretty closely, but short of moving to a yurt in Mongolia I really don’t think there’s any way we’d avoid the wasp-waisted saucer-eyed Disney princess thing completely. Kids learn by imitation, mine more than most, and it only took a little exposure before The Child began simpering around the room in dishtowels or my dresses.
So, taking her to a place where she will see women of all shapes and colours sweating, swinging weights, doing pull-ups, and throwing iron expands her horizons. It shows her that there are plenty of different ways to be a female person, and that each of those people can also be many different things– she sees me draw, and work, and futz about with a telescope in the garden. Why not let her see me work out and high-five my friends?
Reason #2: Making New Friends
The Child gets to interact with a wide variety of people at the gym, where she can practise her conversational skills, manners, and (occasionally) judo choke-holds on them.
She learns socially appropriate behaviour– it’s fine, for instance, to play with Coach Mike when he comes over to you, but not when he’s speaking to a group or another member. She sees people cheering for one another and laughing and enjoying doing hard work. She gets in to the spirit of things– yelling “Up, up, up!” at lifters doing heavy presses, for instance.
Mostly, though, she gets to hang out with people who aren’t me or her dad or her classmates. Variety is the spice of life. Especially when it involves giant tyres.
Reason #3: Learning Self-Management
Obviously, I go to the gym to get shit done, so I can’t constantly direct what the Child is doing. She’s of an age now where I can establish expectations, leave her in the chill-out area (where she’s always in my line of vision) with books and crayons and let her more or less get on with it.
The other week I saw her spill her juice box, and before I could walk over, she got up to find someone to help her clean it. She didn’t yell “MOOOOOOOOM” down the gym as she had in the past– she identified a friend of ours she knew and trusted to ask for help. This is self-reliance. This is good.
Reason #4: Unclench, Mom
The final reason I bring her to the gym is because it teaches me to trust her to navigate a public place successfully without my constant supervision. This may seem odd– she is nearly seven– but due to her difficulties with verbal communication I often feel obliged to be her translator all the time.
Watching her manage herself at the gym shows me I don’t need to do that so much any more. And that confidence in her abilities carries over into other areas of our lives, making for a less fraught relationship between us.
Tips for Taking Your Kid to the Gym:
As with any other child-related outing, preparation is key.
- Check with your coaches first. Your little garage gym may not have a safe place for your child to sit while people throw metal around. Or your coaches may have insurance policy issues that preclude kids being in the gym. Or they may just be soulless meatheads who have lumps of twitching jerky in their chests in lieu of hearts. Whatever the case, respect their decision if you can’t bring your child along. But if you do get the all-clear:
- Know where you’ll park them. SCCF has a communal cluster of sofas near the changing rooms. For a while we also had a heap of mats near the weightlifting platforms. I knew the kidlet could sit in either of those places drawing pictures. I’d be able to see her, and she’d be out of the way of classes and lifters.
- Establish expectations for behaviour first. Tell your kid ahead of time what to expect from your gym– in my case, I had to explain there’d be loud music, lots of banging of bars, and people yelling even though they aren’t angry. Emphasise safety: no running past people doing double-unders or wall-balls, no handling equipment without permission. Have clear consequences for failure to live up to those standards and enforce them. But also have rewards for kids who are good (mine is happy with a snack and a go on the gymnastics rings at the end of class).
- Bring activities. Other members’ children bring iPads, books, or homework to revise. Mine usually brings picture books, stickers, and plenty of drawing materials. Whatever it is, make sure it’s sufficient to keep your kid occupied for the hour it takes you to finish your workout.
- Check in regularly. Don’t leave your child entirely alone while you get your lift on. Use your rest period between sets, for instance, to pop over and take care of anything he or she needs.
- Accept that you might have to cut your workout short. If your child does something dumb, rude, or unsafe– or is just bored witless– be ready to pack up your stuff and take them home, even if you only just finished your warm-up. You can balance being an athlete and a parent, but the scales should always tip towards your child’s needs in the end.
What do you think about parents who bring their small managers with them to the gym? Let us know in the comments!