Escape Artists

1:30pm. I’m working on my computer as my two-year old daughter settles down for her nap in her crib. Or so I thought. Suddenly I hear the pitter patter of little feet. She appears around the corner, looking quite surprised – and pleased – with her newfound skill…

My daughter was a great napper and loved her crib. Whatever possessed her to climb out?! And how do I respond?

Temperament and age are big factors here. Some children simply need a few, firm reminders to keep them from trying again. Others just can’t resist the temptation to test their skills, climbing out over and over again whenever they have the chance. Some are old enough to safely and smoothly transition to a bed, whereas others, particularly those under 2.5 years, are usually too young to make the switch.

Most children under the age of 2.5 years old lack the cognitive ability to fully understand the concept of “staying in bed all night long.” With a lot of effort and patience, some can learn to sleep successfully in a bed (more on that in another post!). But generally speaking, transitioning to a bed prematurely can lead to LOTS of struggles and safety issues (i.e. wandering around a dark room/house alone in the middle of the night).

I believe most early climbers actually do find tremendous security in their cribs, and their climbing should not be misinterpreted as a sign that they are ready for a bed. Just as babies practice their rolling, sitting, pulling up, walking, and talking in their cribs – sometimes to the detriment of their sleep – so too with climbing.

Toddlers and many preschoolers truly benefit from the comfort and cozy containment that a crib provides. Now that crib tents have been recalled, unfortunately our options for physically keeping young climbers in their cribs are more limited. But here are some suggestions, starting with the most minimal interventions.

·      Make sure her crib mattress is set to the lowest possible position. Baby's Dream makes a crib with an extra low mattress (6" lower than usual), though it is expensive.

·      If the back crib railing is higher, you could try wedging the crib in a corner with the taller side facing out.

·      Remove large stuffed animals she may have used as a launch pad.

·      Place pillows on the floor for safety.

·      Start putting her to bed in a sleep-sack, which limits her ability to hoist her leg up and over the railing. Or try a long t-shirt. Some parents find it discourages them from swinging their legs up. There are also product - Cribberz  and Crib Pants - on the market that I've heard good things about. Of course, if she’s using her arms to pull herself out, these interventions won’t really help.

·      If she climbs out, put her right back in her crib with minimal interaction – a firm, “No climbing” will do. Then position yourself nearby, out of her line of vision (just outside the bedroom door). When she goes for her next attempt(s), remind her, “No climbing,” and return her to her crib if necessary. Your response should be minimal, firm, boring, and consistent.

·      If she is persistent but not ready for a bed, there are some tent-like options out there that enable you to zip them in, such as the Nickel Bed Tent by ReadySetBloom. It’s a sturdy, tent-like structure that secures to a twin mattress. Nice colors to choose from and great for travel too. Many kids love the feeling of being contained and cozy in a tent, especially when it is pitched as a fun, special place (and not "this is to keep you in your bed!").

Just remember, your child may not be thrilled about the changes you make. Chances are, the “it’s for your own good” rationale will be lost on her. But don’t second-guess yourself if she protests. You are setting her up for good sleep, while ensuring her safety – one of your most essential jobs as her parent. She will get over it soon enough and will go back to sleeping like a champ. And so will you!