Each phase of parenting comes with new challenges.
Just when you think you’ve mastered one set of challenges, a new one arrives that changes everything: your toddler starts climbing out of the crib.
Suddenly, this tiny little chaotic human can roam free – and he knows it! There’s no stopping him now! Or is there?
With a few little tricks and hacks, you can keep your toddler sleeping in the crib a little longer and buy yourself some more time to enjoy that late-night glass of wine.
The Dangers of a Toddler Climbing Out of the Crib
Toddlers are still a bit top-heavy from their giant bobble-heads and are about as uncoordinated as any human could ever be.
They can barely walk across the room without toppling over, so you can imagine how dangerous crawling out of their crib could be for them. They get the leg over the rails and THUD! Down they go to the ground.
They risk landing on their head and causing damage to their neck, a concussion, or worse.
Ask anyone who has ever worked in an ER and they can tell you a story or two about kids who have fallen out of their cribs.
Before you try any of these hacks to keep your toddler from climbing out of the crib, make sure you create a padded surface at the base of the crib just in case.
Some toddlers are small but mighty and only need an ounce of determination to scale the highest mountain (or crib rail).
Use a spare crib mattress or a cut of upholstery foam. You could even use an exercise mat – just make sure you put something at the bottom of the crib to cushion the fall if your little gymnast still finds a way to scale the rail.
Top Tips to Prevent and Stop Toddler from Climbing Out of the Crib
1. Check Your Mattress Setting
Your first line of defense is the most straightforward one, but some parents often forget. Check your mattress setting. Cribs generally have at least two settings; some have three. You may think that you’ve already lowered the mattress as far as it can go, but are you sure? Double check your crib manual and make sure you’ve lowered the mattress as far as it can go.
2. Sleep Sack (aka: limit their range of movement!)
Most toddlers climb out by pulling their leg up over the railing, so if they can’t move their leg as freely, the problem is solved!
Put your little one in a sleep sack and in most cases, you’ll buy yourself a few more months of freedom before they can escape again.
The Halo Sleep Sack is made of cotton so your toddler can wear it even in the Summer months. If the weather is a bit cold, go for something heavier like a Woolino bag which is made of beautiful, snuggly merino wool.
If you find that your toddler is a little Houdini and can escape their sleep sack, the solution is simple: wear it backwards!
If they can’t access the zipper or snaps, they won’t be able to escape (unless he’s a real Harry Potter).
If the sleep sack still allows too much range of movement, pull out your sewing machine or enlist a friend or family member to sew one up with some warm, minky fabric – or choose whatever pattern and color you like for your own custom sleep sack.
Just make the bottom of the sack more narrow and your little one won’t be able to move his legs quite as far (just don’t make it too narrow – you don’t want him to trip all over himself!).
3. Rearrange the Furniture
Depending on the style of your crib, you may be able to turn it around so that the lower side faces the wall.
Push the side into the corner of the room and block the other side with a tall bookshelf (secured to the wall, of course) and you’ve just bought yourself a few more months.
Of course, this method only works if your crib has one side higher than the other, like a convertible Delta crib.
4. Remove the Mattress Support
Just when you think you’ve done everything you can to hack the crib, there’s one more step: remove the bottom mattress support panel.
Just take it out completely and put the mattress on the floor. Depending on your crib model, you’ve just gained yourself an extra six to ten inches.
Most kids won’t be able to scale the railings from floor level until they’re nearly three years old. At that age, you may even be able to reason (or bribe) with them to stay in bed.
5. Provide a Favorite Book or Toy
Sometimes a little motivation is all your child needs to stay in bed.
Give him his favorite book or toy (make sure it’s safe with no small parts or suffocation hazard) and you may find that’s all he needs to entertain himself and stay put until he falls asleep.
Baby or Toddler STILL Trying to Escape? Here’s What to do When You’ve Run Out of Options…
It could be that your child is Spiderman in disguise, or maybe your crib just can’t be hacked any further. For whatever the reason, you may decide it’s time to transition out of the crib.
Remember, it’s more important to keep your child safe than anything else, so if he is climbing out of the crib consistently and can’t be stopped, it’s time to make a change.
When my oldest child was almost two years old, I gave birth to his brother. He did not like the change in routine and especially the change in nap time. Getting him to stay in his crib was an absolute nightmare.
My sister spent a few weeks with me to help me adjust to life with the new baby and she fought hard to get my screaming toddler down for naps every day. But when she left…he just wasn’t having it.
After a few weeks of trying every trick we could think of, we decided it wasn’t worth it to have him landing on his head and end up in the ER.
We had piled couch cushions under the crib, adjusted the mattress, put him in a sleep sack – we tried EVERYTHING. Finally, we decided it was time to convert the crib to a toddler bed.
Transition Toddler From Crib to Toddler Bed
I know what you’re thinking: two years old (just barely!) is too young for a toddler bed! Well, it’s also too young for a trip to the ER so we decided to cut our losses and go for it.
You know what? It worked.
You see, toddlers are learning how to be independent and they want to exercise that independence every chance they get.
They want to feed themselves, dress themselves, choose their clothes, go potty on their own (or refuse to potty so long as you are telling them to do it!), and decide when and where they sleep. They’re learning the rules of life and they want to be the ones to make the rules – not you!
By moving your toddler to a toddler bed, you’ve removed the urge to fight. If there is no crib railing to scale, they can just hop out of bed…and that’s not nearly as fun as climbing like a monkey!
So if you’ve tried everything to keep your toddler in their crib and it just isn’t working, then maybe it’s time to transition to a toddler bed.
How to Transition to a Toddler Bed
The easiest way to transition to a toddler bed is to keep the sleeping environment the same as much as possible.
This is especially easy to do if you have a convertible crib like this one from Delta.
With a simple adjustment, you can remove one side of the crib, et voila! The crib is now a toddler bed.
Don’t get me wrong – your child won’t magically stop fighting nap and bedtime just because you took away the challenge of the crib railing.
This is where a little something I like to call parenting comes in.
Be a Parent
Before, you could put your child in the crib and just leave him there until either he screamed too loud or you were ready to go get him. Now, he has the control. So you need to teach him the rules and how to follow him.
The most important thing you can do is to be consistent. That’s right. A little consistency goes a long way.
Remove the rail. Explain the rules. Say something like, “when it is nap time you must stay in your bed. If you get out of your bed, I will put you back in bed.”
This may take several days or even a few weeks for your toddler to adjust, but eventually, he’ll get the hang of it.
When he gets out of bed, just pick him up and put him back (even if he’s kicking and screaming). Then when he gets up again, put him back…again. Do it as many times as it takes…even if it takes all nap time!
Naps will be more difficult than nights because he’ll have less melatonin to make him sleepy. But with a little consistency, he’ll learn the lesson: at nap time, I stay in my bed.
We found a color changing clock to be incredibly helpful with our kids for naps as well as early morning wake-ups. Our kids love their OK to Wake clock and we love that we can set it for both naps and mornings.
Remove Any Hazards
Now that your toddler is free to roam their room (or so he thinks), check for any safety hazards.
You would be horrified to know the ways that children have died due to unsuspecting hazards in their room.
Check for any electric cords that they could pull on (like a lamp on a dresser), cover any open outlets, and tie up any cords from window blinds.
And please, please secure furniture to the wall. If your child is climbing out of the crib, they will definitely try to climb a dresser or bookshelf.
Use safety anchors specifically designed to keep furniture from tipping and be sure to use the appropriate screws and anchors for your wall material. It’s a good idea to secure furniture in the whole house, not just the baby’s room.
If you don’t already have one, now is a good time to invest in a video monitor so you can keep an eye on your child from afar.
Some parents choose to leave the door open and put a baby gate in the doorway, which may work for nap time but at night, bedroom doors should be closed. It could save your child’s life in the event of a fire.
Keeping bedroom doors close prevents toxic smoke and fumes from entering the room and slows the spread of fire. Of course, make sure you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house as well as an escape plan.
If you’re concerned that leaving the door closed will be scary for your child, get him a night light. Choose one with warm light conducive to sleep like this Vava customizable night light.
Make it Fun
Especially for an older child, they may be tempted to stay in bed longer if you make their bed a fun place.
You can do this by choosing a cool princess bed or racecar bed, or get new sheets and a new comforter to celebrate moving up to a “big boy” or “big girl” bed.
Find what motivates your child and roll with it.
As much as you may want to keep your toddler in their crib forever, some kids are just too stubborn and crafty, and that’s okay.
With some creativity and time spent training and teaching your child to stay in bed, making the move to a toddler bed can keep them safe without you losing your sanity.