It’s Murphy’s Law of parenting: Just when you get your toddler sleeping a full 12 hours at night with no wake-ups, they decide to throw a brand new wrench into your routine.
That is, by literally throwing themselves out of their crib, narrowly escaping a concussion, and surprising you at your bedside at 3 a.m.
This new “milestone” (a term that, honestly, often feels like a polite way to say “torturous learning experience”) might feel like the end of the world — or at least the end of all the things you just started enjoying again.
You know, like having a single hour to yourself at night and getting six consecutive hours of sleep.
Thankfully, there are some things you can do to encourage your kiddo to stay put. And most importantly, there are ways to keep them safe until it’s time to swap their crib for a bed.
Here’s how to reclaim some semblance of your cozy post-bedtime routine.
FAQs About Baby Crib
The National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance recommends that child care providers have toddlers stop using cribs when they can climb out or when they are 35 inches tall. Designed for children under 3, toddler beds may provide a middle ground between a crib and twin bed.
If your child's crib has a tall side, turn the crib around so that the short side is against the wall. Sleepsacks can help discourage climbing by limiting your child's ability to lift their leg over the crib rail. (Unfortunately, a sleep sack won't stop escape artists that swing both legs over simultaneously.)
The most effective way to keep your toddler from climbing out of the crib is to remove the crib altogether and to transition your toddler into a bed. It can be any bed, really — a regular-sized twin bed works (as long as you add the appropriate safety rails), and so makes a toddler bed.
You can extend his crib-sleeping days by lowering the mattress frame or removing it completely. Try turning the crib around, so the lower side faces the wall. Dress him in a sleep sack over his PJs to make climbing harder. And offer his favourite books and toys to entice him to stay.
Check the crib often for loose or missing pieces. Remove any hanging toys or mobiles when the baby can get up on all fours. When your child can pull herself up or stand, adjust the mattress to its lowest position. The crib sides should be at least 26 inches above the mattress support to prevent falls.
Why it’s happening
Remember when we used that awful “milestone” word? We’re going to break it out again.
Climbing out of the crib is a milestone for your toddler, and it’s a pretty loaded one: It marks the beginning of some serious physical and developmental changes.
Here’s what those changes involve:
- Physical. Your child may not have had the coordination before to succeed at climbing out. To do it, they have to hoist one leg over the railing and balance a bit while they lift over their other leg. Then — in theory — they need to figure out how to lower themselves down without wiping out. Once you get past how annoying it is, it’s impressive.
- Developmental. Let us guess: Your toddler wants to put on their shoes, pick out their clothes, decide what they eat for lunch, and make the call about when it’s time to leave the park. When your kid hits the 18- to 24-month mark, they begin something called an independent streak. This is a good thing in the long run. They’re figuring out who they are, what they want, and how to get it now. But it’s also an absolute nightmare in the short term — they aren’t rational, or reasonable, or interested in self-preservation!
The combination of these two is basically what causes toddlers to break out of their cribs in search of exactly what they’ve been missing every night after you put them to bed. And the fact that you want them to stay in their bed is even more motivation for them to bust out.
What to do about it
So… it’s the end of the world. Not necessarily. Here are some tips for keeping your child in their crib at night.
Lower the mattress
When you first brought your baby home from the hospital, you probably had your crib mattress set at the highest position, so you could easily reach in and scoop them up.
But if you’ve forgotten to lower the mattress as your child has gotten bigger, you might be able to buy yourself some time by moving it down to the lowest setting now. This might make the top of the railing just high enough that your child can’t get their leg over it.
You can also remove any stuffed animals, blankets, or bedding that might be giving your child a boost. (Thanks a lot, Benjamin Bunny— we thought you were on our side.)
Another way to safely use your child’s crib against them is to turn it around, so the shorter, front-facing side is flush with a wall. This won’t work if your crib has even sides all around, but many have a back that’s much taller than the front.
Hack their pj’s
You might have thought you were done with sleep sacks a long time ago, but it’s time to buy the biggest toddler size possible and zip up your little escape artist again.
An age-appropriate sleep sack is a safe way to restrict your toddler’s movements — remember when you used one to prevent your baby from startling themselves awake in the middle of the night?
If your child’s legs are all wrapped up in a sack, it’ll be harder for them to get the leverage needed to climb over the crib railing. If you have a kid adept at zippers, look for a sleep sack with a zipper hide.
You can’t always walk into a big box store and grab a 2T sleep sack off the shelf, so you may need to look online for one that’ll accommodate your child’s height and weight. But they do exist, and they’re worth it.
Use a visual cue
This one has a 50/50 shot of working when you:
- have an older toddler who can safely climb out of their crib
- don’t want them to climb out, over and over again (all night long)
In other words, if your kid’s acrobatics aren’t dangerous but just annoying, you can get one of those “sleep to wake” toddler clocks that tell your child when it’s OK to get up.
More often, this type of clock is used for toddler sleep training. For an older toddler who can climb safely out of their crib without getting hurt, however, it could let them know when they’re allowed to go through with it.
Catch them in the act
So, we’re not buying this one as a legit strategy because we’ve never known a toddler who listened when their parents told them not to do something. But if you have one of these “magical unicorn” children who follows your directions, this could work!
Once your child has escaped the confines of their sleep prison, you’ve already missed the chance to tell them no. If you can catch them in the act of climbing out, however, you might be able to give them a calm but firm no and position them back inside the crib.
Don’t overreact because then your child might do it again just for attention. A simple “No, you need to stay in your crib” is appropriate.
Fair warning: Even if you have the type of toddler this might work on, you’ll have to repeat the process a lot before they get the message. It’s not a one-time disciplinary tactic. If your child has a more easy-going personality, it might be worth sticking out for a few nights until they learn the expected behaviour.
Lower the crib mattress. The simplest option to keep your baby from climbing out of their crib is to lower their mattress as much as possible. This approach may not provide a permanent solution, but it could buy you a few months of peace at night.
Even if your baby is not yet climbing out of the crib, it’s important to lower the mattress as soon as pulling up to a stand becomes easy. Some parents go a step further and lower crib mattresses once their babies begin sitting independently, as standing typically occurs soon after.
Try a sleep sack. Sleepsacks provide comfort to young children, similar to swaddles. The asleep sack may restrict your child’s limbs just enough to make climbing out of the crib difficult, but your child may also find their way out of an ordinary sleep sack.
If that’s the case, it may be worth trying to put the sleep sack on backwards to make the zipper more inaccessible. There are also many models of sleep sacks that place the zipper in harder to reach places, such as near the bottom.
Switch to a toddler bed. If your child is consistently climbing out of the crib, a toddler bed may be safer. The National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance recommends that child care providers have toddlers stop using cribs when they can climb out or when they are 35 inches tall.
Designed for children under 3, toddler beds may provide a middle ground between a crib and twin bed. This strategically designed bed is not fully enclosed but rather includes guard rails meant to prevent toddlers from accidentally rolling out.
Adjustable cribs that can become toddler beds are ideal, as they help children grow more comfortable with evolving sleep arrangements. Avoid making the switch too early, as a growing body of research suggests that this can cause issues with sleep.
Make sure the room is childproofed. How you arrange furniture can determine whether your baby can climb out of their crib. If one side of the crib is shorter than the other, be sure the shorter side is positioned against a wall. Also, if there is furniture nearby the crib, move it away so it can’t be used to help get out of the crib.
Since your baby is climbing, it’s important to double-check that the room is properly childproofed if your baby does get out of their crib. Baby and toddler-proofing essentials include:
- Bolting all heavy furniture to the wall, so they’re impossible to pull down
- Securing cords on blinds or long drapes
- Securing or removing all electrical cords
- Covering electrical sockets
- Installing window guards
- Replacing free-standing lamps with overhead lighting
- Adding finger pinch guards to doors
Avoid crib tents. At first glance, crib tents or other coverings seem like an effective solution to the issue of escaping babies and toddlers. In reality, however, these accessories are dangerous. A variety of manufacturers have voluntarily recalled existing tents and stopped selling new ones in response to dozens of reports of product failures.
How to stop your toddler from climbing out of the crib
So, what do you do when your toddler climbs out of the crib?
Don’t worry, friend—you can try to extend his crib sleeping days for now and learn how to prevent him from climbing out. These simple hacks can buy you some time while finding a more permanent solution.
Then, we’ll also talk about when you should stop using the crib completely and how to make that eventual switch much smoother.
Let’s get started with these crib climbing tips and tricks:
Stage 1: Extending the use of the crib
If you’re in a pinch, extending the use of the crib can be your first option. You might need time to research a toddler bed, or you’re not able to convert the crib until the weekend. And sometimes, using the crib in creative ways can help you get the most out of it.
Let’s take a look at a few ways to work with the crib you have:
Lower the crib mattress as low as it can go
Sometimes we forget that the metal spring frame supporting the mattress isn’t on the lowest screw and that we can move it a few notches lower. Many cribs are also adjustable, so even if the frame is already on its lowest setting, you can still adjust it.
Take a look at where the metal frame of the crib sits and whether you can move it as low as possible. The goal is to lower the mattress as much as it can go to prevent your toddler from being able to climb out temporarily. The lower it is, the harder it’ll be for him to do so, what with the higher boundaries of the crib.
Remove the spring frame completely.
Is the mattress spring frame already installed as low as it can go? Then try removing it completely.
Depending on the crib design, you may be able to remove the metal frame. This allows the mattress to lie flat on the floor while still contained within the crib's sides.
With the mattress flat on the floor and lower than usual, your toddler will have a more difficult time climbing out of the crib. Plus, the sides of the crib will still keep him contained in bed, so you don’t have to worry about him getting up and about in his room.
Turn the crib around.
Some parents have had luck extending their toddler’s crib sleeping days by turning the crib around and tucking it against a room corner.
Many cribs have one long side higher than the other, and that side is usually against the wall. By turning the crib around, your toddler is less likely to climb out of the lower side—the one she can hurdle over—now faces the wall. In other words, she has a higher side to contend with.
Use a sleep sack
A simple way to discourage your toddler from climbing over the crib is to put a sleep sack over her pyjamas.
We forget that toddler sleep sacks can still fit this age. This adds yet another barrier that keeps her inside the crib—trying to climb when your legs are tucked inside a sleeping bag isn’t exactly easy.
Put a favourite toy or book in the crib.
Sometimes all it takes to keep your toddler from climbing over the crib at night are a few incentives.
A favourite stuffed animal, a new toy she can’t get enough of, or a beloved book can sit in a corner waiting for her when she wakes up. That way, she feels less compelled to make a run for it when she can instead stay in bed and play or read.
Let her know she has these toys and books while she waits for you to get her out of bed.
Stage 2: Transitioning out of a crib
Let’s say you’ve stretched crib-sleeping as long as possible, but you know those days are long gone. Except you don’t have a toddler bed just yet, or can’t convert the crib into one by tonight. What can you do?
Install a bed rail
Are you able to remove one side of your child’s crib? Even if the crib doesn’t come with its toddler rail, you can remove one of the sides and install a bed rail instead. This way, he can climb in and out of bed without the risk of falling off.
You may not be able to order a toddler bed and install it by that night, but many stores do sell bed rails you can attach to his crib-turned-bed. And since he can now roam the room, babyproofing is a must. For instance, cover all electrical sockets and secure heavy furniture.
Put the mattress on the floor.
When all else fails and you have zero options, you can remove the mattress from the crib and place it on the floor. Yup, even if that means your toddler can now roam the room freely.
With the mattress on the floor, you won’t have to worry about him climbing out and accidentally injuring himself.
Keep the mattress in the same place in the room as the crib used to be, so his environment feels somewhat familiar.
Similarly, place his pillow and head arrangement in the same position, so he has one less thing to adjust to. And arrange the sheets, blankets, and other bedding as close as possible to how it was before—just minus the crib.
Transition into a toddler bed
Transitioning into a new toddler bed can feel overwhelming, especially when the move comes as a surprise. By morning you realise your toddler has climbed out of the crib. And by evening, you’re forced to come up with a solution, all while feeling unprepared.
Your first thought on seeing your toddler climbing out of a crib might’ve been, How in the world can I stop him from climbing out again?
Fair enough, especially since this usually comes as a surprise, leaving us feeling unprepared for the transition.
You can extend his crib-sleeping days by lowering the mattress frame or removing it completely.
Try turning the crib around, so the lower side faces the wall. Dress him in a sleep sack over his
PJs to make climbing harder. And offer his favourite books and toys to entice him to stay.
If ditching the crib becomes a must, replace one side with a bed rail and turn it into a toddler bed. He’ll still get to sleep in the same place, but now it’s been converted into a toddler bed. You can also place the mattress on the floor, so he has no option of climbing at all.
And of course, you can always get a new toddler bed, one without high railings, to keep him safe in bed.
You can take comfort that you’re taking steps to avoid your toddler climbing out of the crib. And don’t worry, your little escape artist will soon get used to this new milestone—instead of straddling the crib rail and yelling “horsey.”