climbs out of the crib (3)

What to Do When Your Toddler Climbs Out of the Crib?

If your toddler has been climbing out of the crib, it is time to take precautions. Toddlers are curious and want to explore their surroundings, but they need supervision until they can do so safely. 

You may notice after your child turns one that your house might as well be a jungle gym. You’re likely to find your toddler scaling the couch and the coffee table, summiting the stairs, and, to your dismay, climbing out of the crib. 

Realizing that your baby is climbing out of their crib can be scary, and it’s not uncommon to think your toddler’s newfound jailbreak skills mean it’s time to transition to a big kid bed. This used to be standard advice. 

But not so fast. Most of the time, it’s best to wait before making the change to a toddler bed and employing a few other tricks first instead.

You can do a few things to ensure that your toddler stays safe at night in their room.

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Is It Dangerous For Your Baby Or Toddler To Climb Out Of The Crib?

First, though, a reminder: if your baby or toddler has figured out how to escape the crib, don’t ignore it. This isn’t a phase you should wait out. 

If your baby or toddler is regularly climbing out of the crib, it can sometimes be dangerous. Not always, of course, but sometimes. 

A child can be injured by falling from the crib (especially if your baby or toddler’s room isn’t carpeted). 

What’s more, a child who’s loose in his bedroom in the middle of the night is at risk (especially if your house isn’t toddler-proofed).

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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 profound 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. But, 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 precisely 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.

Is It Time For A Toddler Bed?

So when is it the right time to make the switch? Every child is different, but it’s best to wait until your toddler is at least 2 to transition to a big kid bed, but the closer your child is to 3, the better.

Many kids will experiment with climbing out of the crib, and often kids will do it early. However, some kids try it as early as 15 or 18 months old, and those kids are not ready to be in a toddler bed. 

If you switch to a toddler bed at this age, you’re essentially saying, ‘I’m just going to give you a ton of extra freedom that you don’t know how to handle.’ It ends up causing more significant problems.

Three-year-olds are often better able to handle the freedom that comes with a big kid bed since they’ve hit some important developmental milestones. 

They can understand consequences and cause and effect; they can problem-solve; they are beginning to understand the concept of time, which will help tremendously if your child is an early riser. 

But ultimately, there’s no set age when you have to move your toddler from a crib to a big kid bed. So we recommend you wait until your child asks for a bed. 

If they’re not asking for it, they’re happy where they are, and if they’re not climbing out, there’s no need to say, ‘Well, we’re going to get you a bed today,’ because to take away the place where they’ve been sleeping for so long, for some kids, is a shock.

As long as your child is comfortable and happy, don’t surprise them with a bed one day out of the blue. 

The switch to a toddler bed should be handled as a gradual transition, not an overnight change. But what if your toddler is climbing out of their crib?

Ways To Keep A Toddler In A Crib

Safety is the top concern for parents, and there are steps you can take to keep your toddler in the crib. Try some of these strategies before you consider transitioning to a big kid bed. 

Don’t Overreact

When they climb (or attempt to climb) out of the crib, avoid a big reaction. 

Even if your reaction is adverse, significant reactions are more likely to encourage repeat behaviour, and you might find that your little one continues to perform their new trick again and again. 

Set Boundaries And Expectations

Though you should aim to temper your reaction, if you catch your toddler in the act of trying to climb out of the crib, a firm “no” may be enough to stop them in their tracks.  

Remove Items From The Crib

Look for things that can give your toddler a boost and eliminate them. For example, stuffed animals, books, toys, blankets, crib bumpers, and pillows can be used as a step for toddlers trying to escape their cribs.

Lower The Mattress

The Academy of Pediatrics (AP) recommends lowering the crib mattress before your baby can sit independently and moving it to the lowest position (if not already) before your baby learns to stand.

Making sure their crib mattress is lowered before your baby hits these significant milestones not only helps ensure their safety but can also deter climbing—at least for a while. 

Additionally, make sure there’s no furniture near the crib that your toddler can use to gain a foothold and climb out of the crib. 

Adjust The Position Of The Crib

If your baby’s crib has one side higher than the other (designed to be against the wall), rotate the crib so the lower side is against the wall and the higher one is facing the room.

Try A Sleep-to-wake Clock

Sleep training clock for toddlers offers visual cues for when it’s time to get up. 

You can set the clock to change colours at a designated time, signalling to your toddler that it’s OK to be up for the day. 

Another alternative is to teach your toddler which number on a digital clock means wake time. 

Use A Sleep Sack 

Sleepsacks, also known as wearable blankets, are a great alternative to loose blankets and bedding. 

Not only are they extra cozy and safe even for younger babies, but they can keep your toddler from being able to put their legs over the side of the crib.

If your toddler has mastered zippers and is finding their way out of their sleep sack, try putting it on backward (with the zipper on their back rather than their front), which can deter curious little hands and escape artists.

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 more extensive, 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 most considerable 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. Instead, 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. On the other hand, 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.

Get A Sleep Sack

This is a good option for those who have babies trying to escape the crib. Granted, this isn’t common; most children don’t start attempting to climb from their cribs until some time after their first birthdays.

However, babies as young as 8 and 9 months have been known to fling themselves from their cribs. 

This is especially true for babies who hit their mobility milestones (like crawling, standing, and walking).

Some kids are just natural-born climbers!

If this is the case in your home, consider a sleep sack for your baby

Sleepsacks enclose a baby’s legs and feet, leaving enough room to move comfortably but not enough for the baby to climb. 

Sometimes, a slight restriction like that is enough to discourage your baby from doing any middle-of-the-night climbing.

Don’t Get A Crib Tent.

It’s odd to include a “don’t” in our list of options, but this warning bears repeating. 

In the past, specialty products called “crib tents” were marketed as solutions for keeping active toddlers in their cribs. 

Made of mesh, the tents fit right over the top of the crib and zipped shut, making it impossible for toddlers to climb out the top.

The problem was, these crib tents weren’t safe at all. They posed primary entrapment and strangulation risks for children.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into the safety of crib tents in 2008. 

They (along with five major retailers) finally issued a massive recall in Spring 2012.

Bottom line: crib tents aren’t safe, and they aren’t a solution for your baby or toddler climbing from the crib.

Just as the advice to move to a toddler bed has changed as soon as your child starts climbing, so have recommendations surrounding crib tents. 

Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against crib tents because they pose an entrapment and strangulation risk.

Is Toddler Crib Climbing An Isolated Problem, Or Is It Part Of Something Bigger?

Finally, something to think about before we wrap up: is your toddler’s crib escapades an isolated incident, or are they part of a more significant problem?

If your toddler has always been a decent sleeper, and the crib escaping is something new, then you can focus on finding ways to put an end to his crib climbing. 

But if your toddler has never slept well, and the crib escaping is just one piece in a giant puzzle of terrible sleep habits, you may need to think bigger. 

Stop your child from escaping the crib, yes, but focus on improving your toddler’s sleep habits overall.

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Preventing Dangerous Outcomes 

Whatever approach you take, you should still assume your child can and will climb out of their crib again and plan accordingly. 

Even if lowering the mattress or putting on a sleep sack works for six months, it won’t work forever — and you may not see the next jailbreak coming.

If you haven’t already, toddler-proof the room. This is different from babyproofing because toddlers can accomplish way more than babies when left unsupervised in a room.

To do this:

  • Tether all furniture to the walls.
  • Secure window treatments.
  • Cover up electrical sockets.
  • Make sure the room is free of long drapes and cords for blinds, which are both choking or strangulation hazards.
  • Remove or lock away literally anything your child could injure or poison themselves with (yes, even that tub of diaper cream — it kind of looks like cream cheese!).
  • It would help if you also cleared a perimeter around your child’s crib.

You don’t have to put down pillows and blankets; it’s not the worst idea, but it may or may not help much. 

More important is making sure there isn’t anything else they could climb onto from the crib or anything sharp they could hit their head on if they take a tumble over the railing.

Why You Shouldn’t Rush To Buy A Toddler Bed 

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is running out to buy a toddler bed the nanosecond their child climbs out of the crib for the first time.

You open up a whole new can of worms when you give your child free access to roam all over their bedroom — and, perhaps, your entire house — at night. (Pro tip: A baby gate at your child’s door is a safe way to keep them in their room.)

Aside from the obvious safety issues, this is often one of the first actual battles parents face with their toddler around sleep.

Do you think your kid climbing out of their crib from time to time is wrong? 

Just wait until the moment you tuck them into their toddler bed, kiss them goodnight, leave the room, and you turn around 5 seconds later to find them smiling at you. 

Over and over and over again, until it’s midnight, and you’re both crying (you from frustration, them from exhaustion).

It’s a hard habit to break, it takes a lot of patience, and it’s much easier to negotiate boundaries around bedtime behaviour when a child is at least three years old.

In the meantime, it’s not safe to have an irrational toddler getting into mischief in the middle of the night while everyone else sleeps. So don’t make the switch until you have to.

The Bottom Line

If your child climbs out of their crib once, don’t panic: It might not happen again, and even if it does, it’s not a sign that you must immediately switch to a regular bed.

There are several strategies you can try to keep in the crib for as long as possible. But, in the meantime, make sure their bedroom is 100 per cent toddler-proof to keep them safe during future jailbreaks.

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