Crib climbing is problematic in many ways. It poses a safety concern of course. Also, it often puts parents in the situation of having to help a little one learn to stay in a bed and sleep when they may not be fully cognitively ready to handle the responsibility.
There are two ways to handle this crib climbing business. First is the preventative way when you know you have a climbing enthusiast and you want to encourage staying in the crib and avoid climbing out. Second is the reactive way when your kiddo has climbed out once, maybe twice and now you want to make one last effort to get them staying in their crib. (If climbing out is a safety issue and is happening frequently, moving to a big kid bed is recommended. Safety first!)
Preventing climbing out of the crib
When you’ve got an active and avid climber and want to avoid getting into the situation of having to move them to a big kid bed before they (and you) are ready. Here are some tips to encourage your little one to stay in their crib.
Move furniture away from the crib that could help climbing
If you have furniture in your little one’s room that is within reach from the crib (even if it seems just beyond reach), move it away from the crib. Bookshelves, rocking chairs, dressers, changing tables and more all can serve as support and help on your little one’s adventure out of the crib. Moving them away can make it less appealing and possibly more difficult to climb out.
Crib mattress on the lowest setting
Make sure your crib is on the lowest setting possible. Ideally, once your child is able to get into a sitting position on their own, you should move the crib to the lowest setting possible for their safety and to help encourage them to stay in the crib.
Turn the crib around if one side is higher than the other
There are quite a few cribs these days that have one side that is higher than the other (typically meant to go against the wall). This is especially true with the 4-in-1 cribs that convert to a double bed. Turning these cribs around so the highest side is facing out against makes it more difficult and less appealing to climb out.
Keep toys put away or take toys out of the room
Keeping toys put away or taking toys (besides books and some stuffed animals) out of the room can avoid the impulse and temptation to try to climb out of the crib to go play. Keeping that stimulation to a minimum (also why a PITCH BLACK room is helpful) helps kids focus on sleeping.
Use a sleep sack
Starting a sleep sack early (from infancy) and sticking with it can also make it more difficult to climb out of the crib. Sleep sacks serve as a great sleep cue (when we put this on it means it is going to be time to sleep) as well as a blanket that doesn’t fall off when kids move. Until kids are at least 2, if not older, they have a hard time staying covered with a blanket and/or covering themselves back up again when the blanket falls off. Sleep sacks help avoid this problem.
You can make sleep sacks more appealing by offering age-appropriate choices, such as “do you want to wear the rocket ship sleep sack or the doggie sleep sack?”
Ok to wake light
You may have heard about an ok-to-wake light or a toddler clock. You don’t need to wait until your child is climbing out of the crib and in a big kid bed to implement one of these.
Implement an ok-to-wake light early. This can even happen from infancy (babies are much smarter than we often give them credit for). If a light turns on every time a parent comes to get baby up from a nap or in the morning, they start to make the connection that the light turns on to tell them when it is time to get up.
My favorite light for this use is the Hatch Baby Rest+ because you can control it from your phone and then just switch on the colored light right before you walk into the room. When you walk in excitedly point out the light and tell your little one that “green means it is time to get up!” or “the light turns green to tell you I am going to come to get you up!”
Having this indicator they can count on telling them when it is time to get up from naps and in the morning gives them a sense of control because they can tell when it is going to be time to get up. They feel comfort and security knowing that it is predictable and tells them when it is time to get up every day. Not having the question or feel uncertain about what it will be time to get out of the crib, having the predictable indicator can help encourage kids to stay in their crib.
Make the crib their safe place
This is a BIG one. You want your child to cherish their crib. Their crib should be a place of safety, security and comfort. Most of us as adults love our beds, it can become a sanctuary. It should be the same for our kids. A big component of making this help is our attitude as parents around sleep. We want to paint sleep as a absolutely beautiful thing, an act of self-love. When we truly believe it the power and beauty of sleep, our kids will naturally pick up on this idea and internalize it as well.
From an early age talking about how lucky baby is to get into their comfy, cozy crib and sleep. Talk about how they will feel so refreshed and ready to play when they wake up after a great nap or night of sleep. These ideas seem like little things but can have a dramatic impact on sleep in general as well as avoiding climbing out of the crib.
Buying some time from climbing out of the crib
The above ideas may or may not keep your little climber in the crib but it will likely buy you some time. In terms of moving to a big kid bed, the more time AKA the older your child when you make the switch the better. This is because of their cognitive abilities as they get older while better allow you to help them learn the expectations and rules of their new bed.
A few extra hints if you need to ditch the crib early due to climbing out
Understand why this is a big responsibility for your child
As adults we view new freedoms as exciting. For young children, while it may feel exciting it may also feel intimidating and a bit scary. Moving to a big kid bed is a big responsibility and one that may be challenging for your child. The responsibility of staying in bed and sleeping versus following their impulses and getting out of bed to play, check on mom and dad etc. Children don’t really start to develop impulse control until closer to 3 years old. So for younger children while the child may understand the rules, they may still be unable to control their impulses. Being aware of this allows parents to better manage their expectations.
If possible move to a toddler bed or a bed with rails or some sort of barrier
This physical boundary helps provide a sense of security that was inherent with the crib. While these boundaries don’t pose a safety risk or a true barrier for getting out, they can provide comfort and security as well as the reminder to stay in bed.
This house bed is an awesome example. Your toddler can easily get out but they may be more inclined to stay in because it has the security of some barriers. It is always really cool!
Have a plan for when they jump out
Your child climbed out of their crib so chances that they will climb out of their bed are pretty high. You should set expectations around what should happen – getting comfy in their bed and sleeping. Ideally, do not proactively tell them NOT to climb out. This will usually result in them climbing out immediately. But it will likely happen eventually so having a plan in place for when it does allows you to react from a place of regulation. Staying regulated and calm helps avoid escalating the situation so that you can get them back to bed more easily and peacefully.
Similar to the ok-to-wake light as mentioned above a toddler clock is a great idea. The toddler ok-to-wake clock goes to sleep with the child, serves as a reminder to stay in bed and tells the child when it is time to get up for the day. This arms the child with a sense of control, knowing when it is time to get up for the day.
The real difference between the toddler clock and the ok-to-wake light is the clock ‘sleeping’ with them or showing them when it is time to sleep. You can accomplish this with the Hatch as well, but if you have not yet implemented on, a toddler clock like Mella from Little Hippo is a great idea. This clock has a little face that provides another cue for toddlers to understand the current expectation of sleeping versus time to get up.
We know your child is able and likely, in the beginning, to be climbing out of their bed so safety is paramount. Removing any unsafe items from the room such as cords on the ground, furniture that is not well secured to the wall, sharp objects etc. is important. Additionally, adding a gate to the door or at the top of the stairs can help keep your child safe from other hazards in the house if they get up and are moving about before you are able to return them to their bed.
The bottom line on crib climbing
Ideally, you want to be proactive to avoid the situation of your child climbing out of their crib when you are not prepared or ready to move them to a big kid bed. Encouraging them to enjoy their bed, cherish sleep and value the way getting good sleep makes them feel will be a powerful factor whether they climb out or not at fostering and sustaining good sleep habits at your house. Of course, safety is the biggest priority, so if you’ve got a crib climber and need to move them to a big kid bed, it will be fine. It just may take a bit more patience.
If you’ve got a potential climber or pro crib climber but need some help with the next steps, please reach out. I’m here to help. You can schedule a free evaluation call here or reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.