My youngest was a wannabe crib climber from the time he learned to pull up, and eventually transitioned to full-on midnight escapes by toddlerhood. I wish I had known some ways to keep a toddler from climbing out of a crib back then to save me from many sleepless nights. (You know, short of strapping him in to a hammock-like contraption.)
If you have your own escape artist on your hand, you're likely equal parts terrified and confused. What if they fall and get hurt? What if they raid the fridge and drink an entire gallon of OJ? Does this mean they're ready for a big kid bed? If your toddler isn't quite developmentally ready to understand the need to stay in an actual bed, making that switch too soon could be a recipe for disaster. In fact, experts recommend most toddlers sleep in a crib until age 3, when they're typically mature enough to follow directions and actually stay in bed.
Until your toddler is old enough to stay put in a big kid bed, you'll need to figure out how to prevent their daredevil tactics and keep them from climbing out of their crib. It's not easy, but with a little luck and a lot of creativity, it can be done. Read on for 11 tips and tricks that can help give you some peace of mind and hopefully keep your toddler from climbing out of their crib.
1. Lower The Mattress
Lowering the mattress is a good first step for parents to take when attempting to keep a toddler in their crib. Sleep consultant Christine Stevens, owner of Sleep Solutions by Christine, recommends taking mattress-lowering a step further by removing the metal support piece below the mattress to let it rest on the floor.
"While this may not be possible for all cribs, for some, the extra 6 inches of space can be enough to mark the rail higher and keep your kiddo in their crib a little longer," Stevens tells Romper. "Just make sure there isn't too much space between the top of the mattress and the bottom crib rail. You don't want little hands getting stuck, or worse, your child ninja-ing their way out through the bottom."
2. Remove Toys/Pillows
"Make sure there is nothing in or around the crib that toddlers can use as leverage to hoist themselves out of the crib," Jamie Engelman, MS and Pediatric Sleep Consultant with Oh Baby Sleep Consulting tells Romper. Masterful mini escape artists may still be able to make a break for it — despite a lowered crib mattress — by getting creative and stacking stuffed animals to stand on for a boost.
3. Use A Sleep Sack
"Putting your child in a properly sized sleep sack (and you may have to make it narrower by doing some sewing) or putting them in footie pajamas with a piece of material sewn between the legs (like the webbing between a frog's toes) so that they can walk and play in their pajamas, but cannot separate their legs wide enough to throw their leg over the rail and climb out" is an innovative idea, Lynelle Schneeberg, Psy.D., pediatric sleep psychologist and director of the Behavioral Sleep Program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Romper.
4. Use Blackout Curtains
If your child tends to climb out when they see the sun come up in the mornings, Schneeberg says that using blackout curtains may help. "Using blackout curtains so that the child doesn’t know when it's morning," she tells Romper. She also notes that this isn't a totally fool-proof method, but may serve as a deterrent for some toddlers.
5. Push The Lower Side Against The Wall
I don't know why this genius hack never crossed my mind when my son was consistently climbing out of his crib. If your child's crib has one side that is built higher than the other, it feels natural to put that side against the way. But if they keep climbing out, try turning the crib around so that the low side is against the wall.
"When they try to climb over, they usually use the sides that are shorter to propel one leg over. If they don't have that chance and the side is higher, they won't have as much of an ability to climb right over and get out," Elisa Costanza and Pam Larouche, early childhood educators and baby and child sleep consultants at Restful Parenting tell Romper.
6. Set Boundaries
Even if your toddler isn't quite old enough to understand why they should stay in their crib, it still can't hurt to try talking to them to set an expectation that they shouldn't try to climb out. "Tell your kiddo 'no'. If you see your child attempting to shimmy their way out, simply put them back in the crib and tell them 'no, that's not safe,'" Stevens tells Romper. "Do it enough times and your child will figure out that it's not an option and learn to stay in the crib."
7. Hang Out Outside Their Room
"This might not be effective for all children, but sometimes if you stay close to their room, you can remind them not to climb each time you see them about to climb out — you poke your head in and remind them not to climb," Costanza and Larouche recommend. "For some tots, this can quickly become a game so you have to know your toddler and whether that would be effective for you or not."
8. Keep Siblings In Different Rooms
If your kids share a room, you might find that big brother or sister is the one helping your toddler climb out of their crib. (A little baby video monitor surveillance can confirm this theory.) So, if you have the space, consider having your kids sleep in separate rooms so that your toddler doesn't have any assistance in plotting their escape.
9. Childproof The Room
"Make sure the entire room is childproofed," Schneeberg says. If you have a changing table or dresser close enough to your toddler's crib that they might be using it as a sort of stepping stone to get from their crib down to the ground, moving it away can help. Schneeberg also recommends adding another barrier at the doorway like a gate, half-height door, or childproof doorknob so that your child cannot roam around the house if they do get out.
10. Try A Playpen
Costanza and Larouche say that when a toddler won't stop climbing out of a crib, but still needs to be contained, a playpen is a good alternative. "The mesh of the playpen makes it a little more difficult to climb out of. Try to find a playpen with higher sides as some of the sides are lower on smaller playpens," they tell Romper.
11. Don't Use A Sleep Tent
When all else fails, parents may be desperate to try just about anything to get their toddler to stay in their crib at night. Safety is the most important consideration, and the sleep experts Romper spoke with warn that as tempting as they may be, sleep tents that go over the top of a child's crib are not safe to use. Multiple safety recalls have been issued for sleep tent products that intend to keep toddlers from climbing out of cribs due to potential injuries. It is recommended to use the methods above to try to keep your toddler safely in their crib until they are ready to transition to a bed.
Elisa Costanza and Pam Larouche, early childhood educators and baby and child sleep consultants at Restful Parenting
Christine Stevens, children's sleep consultant and owner of Sleep Solutions by Christine
Jamie Engelman, MS and Pediatric Sleep Consultant with Oh Baby Sleep Consulting