Inside: Learn how to stop baby 17 strategies to keep baby from climbing out the crib – that work for toddlers too…
Your toddler or baby has been sleeping through the night for a while, luring you into thinking that you are through the worst of the ‘sleep problems’, and you’ve got quite used to enjoying your nice quiet evenings. Then suddenly they throw another one at you, by literally throwing themselves out of their crib. They take you completely by surprise by turning up by your side as you’re cooking dinner, or at your bedside in the middle of the night. Or like when my toddler fell out of his crib for the first time, you hear an almighty thud from upstairs, most likely followed by screams. He was fine thankfully, just a bit shocked that he’d actually managed to do it I think!
Thankfully, learning how to stop your baby from climbing out of the crib is possible. I learned how to navigate this new milestone and you can too. You may be tempted to head to the shops and buy a toddler bed, but this is usually not the answer. It is widely thought that a toddler who climbs out of the crib is not ready for a bed – the age recommendation for this transition is around 3 years old. Instead try these strategies both to physically stop your baby from being able to climb out, as well as ones that discourage that urge to escape in the first place.
Obviously, the biggest worry as a parent is that your child is going to hurt themself. It is amazing how quickly a toddler can teach themself to climb over the rails and down the other side with complete control, however, they do usually have to learn the hard way first and of course, there will always be times when things don’t go to plan for them. So as well as doing everything you can to discourage your crib climber, it is important to make sure that if they do get out they will be safe and chances of injury are minimized.
Before tackling the issue of your baby or toddler climbing out the crib, safeguard potential falls
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are on average close to 10,000 crib-related injuries in under-twos dealt with by emergency departments per year, and 66% of these are from babies and toddlers falling out of their cribs. Toddler climbing out of crib injuries include things like soft tissue injury to the head and neck and fractures.
So before thinking about how to stop your baby or toddler from climbing out of the crib, you need to minimize the adverse effects if and when they do. Even if your baby has climbed out of the crib and fallen, chances are he’ll be undeterred and try again.
1. Place a firm mattress on the floor
The first thing to think about to protect your little crib climber is giving them a soft landing if they do fall. A firm mattress around the edges of the crib should do the job and failing that some pillows or cushions.
2. Remove any nearby furniture
Make sure there is no furniture nearby that they could hurt themselves on as they fall. Sharp edges are a particular hazard but it is probably a good idea to move anything hard well away from the edge of the crib too.
3. Toddler proof the room
Whilst you are making the crib area safe, it is a good idea to take a look at the rest of their room too. Once escaped, your toddler is potentially alone in their room unsupervised, so it needs to be baby and toddler-proof.
- Cover electrical sockets with outlet covers
- Make sure there are no long blind cords, drapes, or electrical cords
- Secure windows
- Tether any furniture to the walls
- Make sure there are no small pieces lying around that could be swallowed
- Remove any medicines or creams that could be ingested
At what age do babies or toddlers climb out of the crib?
This phase usually starts around 18-24 months, a time of massive development for toddlers, bringing with it new independence and some seriously complex emotions. Having said that, babies as young as 12 months have been known to break free, and if they are tall enough to get their legs up and over the railing then it is certainly possible.
Why do toddlers start climbing out of their crib?
Climbing out of the crib is a developmental milestone. Not all toddlers do it, but many do. From the age of around 12 months babies start to become more independent, they can pull themselves up and stand in their cot, they are beginning to walk on their own and their coordination is quickly improving. So an 18-month-old climbing out of the crib is practicing these new skills.
Fast forward a few more months and they are now becoming fiercely independent, they want to do everything themselves, and they want to explore. That is all the motivation a 2-year-old needs to attempt to climb out of the crib at night. So essentially it is a fateful combination of physically being able to climb out, and developmentally wanting to climb out. And we all know what a toddler is like once they’ve put their mind to something!
Is it time to move your toddler to a big kid bed?
In most cases, the answer is no, a toddler climbing out of their crib is not ready for a bed. The general rule of when to move your toddler out of their crib and into a bed is around the age of 3. If your child is climbing out of the crib then you can be pretty certain they will also climb out of their bed. It is much easier for them to do so and much harder for you to break the habit. By the of age 3, your child is much easier to reason with, and therefore you are likely to have more success in keeping them in bed. Evenings spent marching a 2-year-old back to bed, time and time again, soon become very boring, so do not make the transition until you absolutely have to!
How to stop your baby or toddler from climbing out of the crib
Before you rush out to buy a toddler bed, take a look at these sleep-safe tips on how to keep your baby from climbing out of their crib.
1. Lower the crib mattress as low as it can go
You have probably already done this, but if not now is the time to make sure the base of your crib is as low as it can go. It may buy you the extra couple of inches that you need.
2. Turn the crib around
If you have a crib that is lower at the front and higher at the back, then an easy solution could be to turn the crib around so that the lower side is wall-facing. It does make it slightly harder when lifting them in and out but it may just do the trick. Of course, there is still likely to be one end free which is low enough but hopefully your toddler hasn’t figured that out!
3. Lower the mattress to the ground
If you’ve already lowered the base of your crib as far as it will go without success, you may be able to go even further and remove the base of the cot entirely and lower the mattress all the way to the floor. This will depend on your crib and the weight of the mattress, some will work perfectly, and others may need some adjusting. The important thing is to ensure that there is no gap between the top of the mattress and the bottom of the crib railing which your toddler could get stuck in. If there is a space, you could build a platform to raise the mattress up as much as needed.
4. Use a sleep sack
If you’ve already moved on from a sleep sack for your baby or toddler, it may be time to resurrect it. A traditional sleep sack restricts how far they can move their legs, which may be enough to stop your little escape artist from being able to climb out. If you worry that they will escape their sleep sack, one with the zipper at the bottom will create a greater challenge.
5. Move your furniture
Move any furniture, such as dressers, chairs, and changing tables, that have the potential to aid an escape, away from the side of the crib. And ensure that any furniture that is in the room is secure and safe in case your toddler does get out and is free to roam alone in their bedroom.
6. Try a Pack ‘n Play
Some parents find using a pack ‘n play or travel crib works well in stopping their toddler from climbing out of their crib. The shape and design of some can make it more difficult, as do the soft sides.
7. Buy special pajamas
Little Grounders have designed these brilliant pajamas with the sole aim of preventing your toddler from climbing out of their crib. These climb limiting pajamas are essentially footie pajamas with a strip of fabric sewn between the legs. They give enough movement that your child can walk around in them freely, but restrict movement enough to stop them from being able to climb. They also have a zipper-free version for any toddler who is a pro at escaping their PJs too!
An easy alternative is to sew a strip of fabric into your toddler’s pajamas yourself. It works best with footie ones that won’t ride up and ensure that the fabric is long enough so it doesn’t restrict them whilst walking.
How to keep your baby or toddler in the crib
We’ve looked at ways to physically prevent your baby or toddler from being able to climb out of the crib, but there are also things you can do to try and change the behavioral desire to escape, and encourage them to want to stay in their crib.
8. Make sure exciting toys in baby’s room are out of sight
Anything fun and exciting that might entice your little one to take a closer look needs to be well hidden. One of the reasons they may be climbing out of their crib is because they feel they are missing out on something more interesting, so do not leave anything even vaguely tempting in sight.
9. Put a favorite toy or book in the crib
If your toddler is looking for something to do or play with when they wake up, then why not leave a book or a favorite toy in their crib to keep them busy. If they have something to entertain them in their crib, they may be less inclined to attempt to find something outside of their crib.
10. Ensure bedtime is at the ‘right’ time
This is a really difficult one to judge, but as your child is getting older and moving into the next stage of development, it may be that you need to adjust their bedtime. If you put them to bed too early your child may not have built up enough sleep drive, be restless and wanting to play. Watch them on a video monitor after you’ve put them down, and if this is a regular occurrence, it may be time to make an adjustment.
Alternatively, it may be that your baby or toddler is going to bed too late; an overtired baby can become increasingly difficult to settle and start fighting sleep.
These sleep charts, which include recommended awake times and nap times by age and stage, may help you set the correct bedtime for your baby.
11. Try a GroClock
The GroClock is a wonderful invention, my toddler loves his, and it gives children a visual aid that will tell them when it is okay to get up, therefore hopefully keeping your toddler in their crib until that time. This one is most suitable for babies or toddlers approaching the age of 2.
Simply set the clock for whatever time you want to make wake-up time, and as the sun comes up at your chosen time, the screen on the clock will change from blue to yellow, indicating to your child that it is time for them to get up. It is also useful as part of your bedtime routine – we say goodnight to the sun when my son gets into bed, and he knows that means it is sleep time, and therefore he needs to stay in his crib.
12. Do check backs
After you have put them to bed in their crib, reassure your toddler that you will come back to check on them in a few minutes. This helps them feel secure and like they haven’t been abandoned which will make them less likely to want to climb out of the crib and come looking for you.
13. Only use the crib for sleeping
Children very easily associate places with feelings, so if you put them in their crib for other reasons than sleeping, they very quickly get the wrong idea about what it is for. If you use the crib during the day, for anything other than sleeping, they will identify the crib with this, and if you use it for timeouts or as a punishment then the crib will have negative associations. To prevent your toddler from climbing out of their crib, you need to make it clear to them that the crib is for sleeping and make them feel comfortable and secure in it.
14. Watch them on the baby monitor
It is of course not possible to watch your child all night long, but if your toddler is prone to trying to escape just after bedtime before they have gone to sleep, a video monitor is a good investment. Watching them may help you get to the bottom of why they’re doing it and figure out how to keep your baby from climbing out of their crib. You may also be able to get to them before they fall.
What to do when your toddler climbs out of the crib
So you’ve tried everything, but your little Houdini is still intent on getting out. How you deal with the situation can also help stop your baby from climbing out of the crib in the future, so read on for tips on what to do and how to react when your toddler does climb out of the crib.
15. Catch them in the act
If you manage to catch them in the act as they are mid-climb, do not make a big deal of it, firmly tell them “no” as you help them back down. Treat it like you would if you caught them doing anything else that could put them at risk, like running into the road or getting too close to something hot. Toddlers need to understand where the line is and what is and is not okay.
16. Return your toddler to the crib with minimal communication
If your child is already out of their cot by the time you’ve found them, gently but firmly place them back in the crib, again saying no and reiterating that it is nighttime and time for sleep. Leave the room straight away and minimize any engagement. Again this is reinforcing that it is bedtime and not playtime. You may need to do this quite a few times before the message starts to sink in but keep going with it, a consistent message is important and should lead to a change in behavior.
17. Don’t overreact
A strong reaction will only encourage your toddler to do it again for the attention. At this age, a negative reaction is often seen as funny and therefore has the opposite effect to what you had hoped. It is important to be firm and to make it clear that they have done the wrong thing by climbing out of their cot, but keep calm.
DO NOT use crib tents to prevent climbing out
Designed to keep insects out and children in, you may have seen crib tents for sale and thought that they looked like the perfect solution. Evidence suggests however that they could be dangerous and we do not recommend using a crib tent to prevent climbing out, or anything else that involves covering the top of your baby’s crib.
Although many brands have had their products recalled, there are still plenty on the market, but that does not necessarily make them safe. Child safety advocates have great concerns over the possibility of a child becoming entangled in the tent leading to suffocation or strangulation.
Final thoughts on keeping your baby or toddler from climbing out of the crib
If your baby or toddler has started to climb out of their crib or has just climbed out of their crib and fallen for the first time, the first thing for you to do is not panic. Toddlers go through numerous developmental stages and this unfortunately is just one of them.
Do not rush out to buy and transition them to a toddler bed, there are plenty of other solutions to try first to not only physically stop them from being able to climb out but also to try and change behavior and give them reasons to want to stay in their crib.
The most important thing is to ensure your child is safe and to prevent injuries from climbing or falling out, so make toddler proofing your priority and ensure that the area around the crib in particular is safe. It may take time for your efforts to pay off, particularly if they still have the ability to climb out, and you are trying to break the habit, but persevere, you will get there.
Looking for more baby sleep tips and advice? Check out:
- (Gentle) Sleep Training: What To Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Too Early In The Morning
- 18 Best Blackout Shades/Curtains For Baby’s Nursery (2022 UPDATE)
- How to get your newborn to sleep in a bassinet instead of your arms
- Is it OK to put baby to sleep without burping?
- What should a newborn baby wear to sleep in bed at night? Newborn sleepwear de-mystified!
- Starting A Newborn Sleep & Feeding Schedule That You And Your Baby Will Love