Skateboarding as a parent is super weird. If you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you feel like skateboarding is the best, most positive thing ever, and want to encourage your kids to do it too. It’s early days, but like with many positive, active and creative things in my life, I’ve tried to encourage my daughter to skate from the minute she could walk. I thought I would write up some thoughts on my experiences around trying to get a toddler to skate.
Before I go any further, I need to make it clear that children are individuals in their own right, and do not exist to be clones of their parents. If my daughter decides she absolutely hates skateboarding and doesn’t get on with it, that’s fine. However, the benefits of skateboarding are immense: it improves balance, it encourages spending time outdoors, it’s active, it’s social, and it encourages creative thinking. I was also extremely keen to not be one of those parents I have complained about multiple times on this blog, who cops out and buys their kid a scooter, and does not prepare them to use a skatepark properly.
I introduced her to it just after she turned 1 – I would hold onto her and ride around on my board, crouching down to get her feet on the board. I didn’t do this on skateparks or ramps, and just did this on my drive. After doing this for a while I invested in getting her own board to have a go on.
Having skated for more than half of my life, in my mind I feel like I’m pretty clued up on getting my daughter the right equipment to get her on her way. I bought a Blast Skates Jr “My First Skateboard” kit (which I built myself as some of the loose parts are too small for a toddler). The recommended age for this kit is 4 years old, so I was somewhat skirting the guidelines by buying this for a kid who isn’t even half that age yet. I ordered it because they are incredibly popular and sell out very quickly!
The Blast Jr board is great for young kids – the board length is a whole third shorter than an adult sized board, so it’s better suited for little legs! If you see footage of toddlers skating full sized boards, one of the issues they encounter is that they have to almost do the splits to get equal weight distribution between the tail and front bolts. With the Blast Jr board the weight distribution is a little bit more comfortable for younger skaters. The board is an 8 inch pool shape, and all other hardware (trucks and wheels) are almost 1:1 scale with a normal board, so a lot of the parts seem interchangeable if your kid sticks with it and wants to upgrade.
Having said all of this: toddler’s have a very strange attention span. My daughter has stepped on her Blast board probably a total of 5 times, and got bored of it pretty easily. If anything, she prefers standing on my board! I partly feel like this is because kids this age always want to have a go with what you are using (food, phone, anything we’re using she wants) – so she usually gravitates towards my board because she’s seen me riding it. She’ll pull her own board out and stand on it when I’m working in my office room, so at the very least she understands that the board is hers and wants to ride it, so that’s a start!
When I finally got her to stand on a board, she required a lot of help. She’s 21 months old now, and whilst she’s always been a great walker, she isn’t exactly going to be out here busting Lien Tails. Because of this I can’t let her skate alone: I hold her hands and roll slowly. Don’t take children of this age to skateparks, have them roll on flat ground at first. I’ve had my daughter go back and forth on an empty mini ramp, but not very high. It’s a good introduction, and I honestly wouldn’t do much more than that at the minute. You want to get them comfortable with standing on a moving skateboard.
Much of the parental advice I have read around skateboarding suggests that most kids shouldn’t be skateboarding until they are 5, although I think a lot of this is written by parents who don’t skate and think it’s more dangerous than it really is. I think the general consensus is that young kids should be using toy scooters or bikes at skateparks, which I think is wrong.
I don’t believe in taking the easy way out here: buying a young child a scooter or bike because it “looks” easier and will get them riding around skateparks earlier is probably more dangerous, because they are bypassing fundamental basics of using a skatepark. Learning to ride a skateboard is difficult, and I think this in turn makes you more aware – riding something because it’s “easy” breeds complacency and that can quickly lead to young children causing accidents, which isn’t fun for them or anyone else using the skatepark.
This isn’t to say that your child can never ride a bike or scooter at a skatepark: my thought process is that they should learn to ride a skateboard first, so they are less complacent and more aware of the hazards a skatepark may bring. In all instances you, as a parent, should be hands on and aware of the hazards yourself as well. I’ve seen other skateboarders who should know better let their 3 year old loose on a scooter at a skatepark, so this is a lesson we all need to remind ourselves of from time to time.
There is proof that 2 and 3 year olds can skateboard, even dropping in and doing tricks all by themselves, but every child is different and you need to use common sense to gauge how well they are getting on with it. Understanding the right time for them to transition (no pun intended) from skating flat ground to using any skatepark ramps is key, and using skateparks at the right time is also key.
I’ve always treated it as something she can play with if she is in the mood to – toddlers are a law unto themselves anyway, and more often than not will get bored of anything you put in front of them within 5 minutes. Sometimes getting a toddler to be interested in anything can be as time consuming, repetitive and frustrating as learning skateboard tricks, and sometimes you just need to learn when to have a break from it.
I think the right approach is to gently introduce them to a skateboard as a viable activity, and let them gravitate toward it as and when they want to: Let them explore the skateboard by themselves (even if they just want to spin the wheels and look at it rather than ride the thing), and the curiosity will hopefully continue as they grow.
As I said though: parenthood is not straightforward and has many answers, so we’ll see how my daughter gets on in the next few years – watch this space.