There you are: relaxing on the couch with your spouse, watching “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS (because it’s Monday night, after all, and this is your life now). You talk about each other’s day, stretch, yawn, and discuss whether or not 8:45 is too early to turn in for the night. Then you laugh together as you fondly remember your younger days when you could stay up until the early morning hours and still feel well-rested the next day.
Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door.
It’s too late for packages, and neither of you ordered food. What could it b-
*knock knock knock*
It’s coming from your toddler’s bedroom.
The horror on your partner’s face likely mirrors your own when you realize that your toddler’s crib is much too far from the door to allow her to knock while she’s still in it.
Few things are freakier than that first time your toddler climbs out of her crib. Just yesterday, she was an innocent little child, obediently staying in her bed at all hours of the night, but tonight, all bets are off. After all, today she’s a whole day older!
So what do you do when your toddler breaches the walls of her crib? First of all, DON’T PANIC! Most kids learn how to climb out of their crib at some point – it’s completely normal and developmentally appropriate. Look at her go! She’s learning, she’s applying, she’s science-ing – her mind is doing some incredible things right now.
Some kids start testing their bedtime boundaries as early as 16 months – basically once their legs are long enough to hoist up over the top rail. Other kids don’t even want to try climbing out until they’re three years old or older, if at all. Some kids try it once and don’t attempt again. Other kids find it a thrilling game to climb over the rails and explore their room throughout the night.
The point is, every kid is different, and every kid’s motivation is unique.
So what do you do about it?
Like most parents, your first thought is probably whether you should move her to a toddler bed, and nine times out of ten, that’s not the right answer. Sure, some kids are ready for a toddler bed when they’re 18 months old, but most kids lack the discipline and skills to successfully sleep in a toddler bed until they’re two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years old. Before that age, they’re so thrilled by their newfound freedom that there’s no reasoning with them that they need to get in bed to sleep. It’s best to try some of these other tactics first:
1. Turn the Crib Around: Many cribs nowadays have a higher, decorative side that is supposed to be pushed up against the wall. By turning your baby’s crib around so the shorter side is against the wall and the higher side faces out, you can usually buy yourself a little more time. Of course, she’ll probably figure out that the side rails are shorter and climbable at some point, but draw her attention away from the sides by doing all of your picking up/putting down routines from the front side just as you used to do. It may be a little uncomfortable for you, and you might need a step stool to get things in and out, but it’ll be worth it if it keeps her in her bed for a few more months.
2. Modify Her Sleeping Clothes: Sometimes it feels like little kids must have suction cups on the bottom of their feet with the way they can climb things. Some easy ways to inhibit climbing include putting socks on her feet or only having her wear footie pajamas. Additionally, a sleep sack can help prevent her from hoisting her leg over the side rail.
3. Invest In or Make Your Own Anti-Climb PJs: Anti-climb pajamas have an extra strip of fabric sewn between the legs that prevent climbing. This trapezoidal piece of cloth is usually a few inches wide, which lets your toddler run and play but stops her from reaching her leg too far. Several companies sell original or modified anti-climb pajamas, or if you’re crafty, you can sew a strip of fabric connecting the inseams of your toddler’s current PJs.
4. Drop the Bottom: Some cribs have a feature that lets you raise or lower the mattress to different heights. If those slats or springboard are removable, by all means, remove them all the way. By putting your baby’s mattress on the floor, you can buy yourself a little extra time. However, a word of caution: your baby’s mattress needs to be firm and come up an inch or two above the bottom of the crib sides. If there is any space between the bottom of the crib side and the top of your baby’s mattress, she could get stuck or hurt. Stacking a couple of pieces of plywood or using a piece of foam underneath the mattress are good, safe ways to build the mattress up to the right height.
5. Stay Cool: It can be hard to control your temper when you are putting your toddler back in bed for the 4,629th time that night, but you have to stay cool, man. Remember, negative attention is still attention, and by that time of night, their tired little brains aren’t processing anything other than, “I do what I want. Mommy and daddy come in my room.” Give yourself some grace, take a deep breath, give a firm “NO” and *clenched teeth* put the little darling back in her crib.
When your toddler climbs out of her bed, it may feel like the end of the world as you know it, but it really isn’t. Most kids like the comfort and consistency of their cribs too much to give them up, though it may take a few nights sleeping on the floor for them to realize this.
And if the climbing-out-of-the crib trick inspires a serious sleep regression in your little one, contact one of our sleep trainers to help you get your toddler back on track so that she—and you—can get the rest that you desperately need.