Introducing Your Child to Crossbows
The crossbow family stays strong thanks to those who pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation. Deciding when your child is ready to shoot a crossbow for the first time is a deeply personal decision that only you can make. There are multiple factors to consider, including your child’s age, maturity, and – most importantly – ability to follow instruction and safety rules. When you decide the time has come to bring your child into the crossbow community, here’s some advice for creating a fun, safe and successful experience.
Get them comfortable. Before putting a crossbow in your child’s hands, spend time getting him/her familiar with it. Bring your child along to sit in the blind; explain what you’re doing as you wax your bow’s cables and string; tell stories about what it was like when you learned to shoot for the first time. The important thing is that there’s an air of familiarity to erase any fear or hesitation your child may have before actually allowing him/her to handle a crossbow.
Safety. Safety. Safety. This should certainly be a fun experience, but there is a level of seriousness that is absolutely essential. Your child should not even be touching a crossbow if he/she doesn’t have the basic safety rules memorized. Knowing the rules is one thing; practicing those rules is something else entirely. Be ready to watch every move your child makes and quickly correct any mistakes.
Set them up for success. If you aren’t ready to invest in a youth crossbow, consider borrowing one or use a full-size crossbow in a resting position. Take the time to ensure your child is equipped with everything he/she needs to take a good shot – from confirming the trigger is a manageable draw weight to establishing eye dominance. Planning is key to avoid a disappointed child who gives up on crossbows after a frustrating first experience.
Keep it simple. A crossbow can be overwhelming and complicated, but it shouldn’t be the first time around! Your child doesn’t need all the bells or whistles; he/she just needs to pull the trigger confidently and see a bolt sail into the target. So steer clear of any complicated technology or add-ons. While teaching, try not to use any jargon. If you do introduce your child to technical terms, keep it to a minimum and define each term clearly. Most importantly, be mindful of how much new information you’re throwing at your child. You’ll likely need to perform many basic operations (cocking, loading, positioning) so your child can focus on one skill at a time.
Don’t just tell; show. Part of keeping it simple means not just telling your child what to do, but actually showing him/her what you’re talking about. Demonstrating the motions, however many times it takes, gives children an exact idea of what they need to mimic. The “monkey see, monkey do” cliché definitely rings true here – especially if you have a visual or hands-on learner.
Encourage questions. If your child is unclear or needs more information, you need to know about it. Your child may ask questions freely, or you may need to pull questions out of him/her. Watch body language for cues if you have a tight-lipped child. Answer questions clearly and carefully, and don’t move on until you’re sure your child understands.
They set the pace. Only go as fast or as slow as your child is willing to go. It’s not a race to reach a certain point or to shoot a certain number of bolts. In fact, your child may not even fire a single bolt during your first practice – and that’s OK. You’re along for the ride, and if all goes according to plan, you have plenty more practice in your future. So don’t rush it!
Expect wandering attention. Training sessions with your child are definitely going to be shorter than if you were training on your own. As every parent knows, children’s attention spans are short. Take a break if you need to, but also know when to stop. A distracted child is not one who should be handling a crossbow.
Offer high praise. With each little hurdle your child overcomes, make sure he/she knows how proud you are. You have a new potential hunting buddy, and that’s definitely something worth celebrating! Let your child’s enthusiasm feed off yours.
Plan for what’s next. What you achieve for each training session – especially the first one – will vary. To keep your child motivated and excited, make a plan for what you hope to accomplish next. Now you both have a goal to chase after and another reason to spend time together.