How to Handle Your Toddler (or Baby!) Climbing Out of the Crib

toddler jailbreak
“He pulled a jailbreak!”

Those were my friend’s words one morning, when I met her for coffee. She looked frazzled and a little panicky; turns out her 18 month old toddler had climbed out of the crib the night before, and had nearly scared his poor parents to death.

Not that her experience was anything unusual, of course; plenty of parents have experienced those disconcerting “jailbreaks”! Our little ones somehow channel their inner monkeys and figure out how to climb (or maybe even vault!) right out of the crib.

But how do you handle this? What are you supposed to do when you find your toddler (or even worse, your baby) on the wrong side of the crib bars? In this article, we’ll examine your options to prevent or eliminate those middle-of-the-night jailbreaks.

Is It Dangerous For Your Baby or Toddler To Climb Out of the Crib?

First, though, a reminder: if your baby or toddler has figured out how escape the crib, don’t ignore it. This isn’t a phase you should wait out. If your baby or toddler is regularly climbing out of the crib, it can sometimes be dangerous. Not always, of course, but sometimes. A child can be injured by falling from the crib (especially if your baby or toddler’s room isn’t carpeted). What’s more, a child who’s loose in his bedroom, in the middle of the night, is at risk (especially if your house isn’t toddler-proofed).

Let’s review a few options to help with your crib climbing toddler.

Get a Sleep Sack

This is a good option for those of you who have babies who are trying to escape the crib. Granted, this isn’t common; most children don’t start attempting to climb from their cribs until some time after their first birthdays.

However, babies as young as 8 and 9 months have been known to fling themselves from their cribs. This is especially true for babies who hit their mobility milestones (like crawling, standing, and walking) early.
Some kids are just natural-born climbers!

If this is the case in your home, consider a sleep sack for your baby. Sleep sacks enclose a baby’s legs and feet, leaving enough room for the baby to move comfortably, but not enough for the baby to actually climb. Sometimes, a small restriction like that is enough to discourage your baby from doing any middle-of-the-night climbing.

DON’T Get a Crib Tent

I realize it’s odd to include a “don’t” in our list of options, but this warning bears repeating. In the past, specialty products called “crib tents” were marketed as solutions for keeping active toddlers in their cribs. Made of mesh, the tents fit right over the top of the crib and zipped shut, making it impossible for toddlers to climb out the top.

Problem was, these crib tents weren’t safe at all. They posed major entrapment and strangulation risks for children. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into the safety of crib tents in 2008. They (along with 5 major retailers) finally issued a massive recall Spring 2012.

Bottom line: crib tents aren’t safe, and they aren’t a solution for your baby or toddler climbing from the crib.

Lower the Mattress

This one might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to miss the obvious when you’re utterly sleep-deprived! (Then again, maybe you wouldn’t be surprised — if you’re a Baby Sleep Site reader, chances are you’re a little sleep-deprived yourself!)

If you haven’t already, try lowering your baby’s crib mattress to its lowest possible point. This will make it harder for your baby or toddler to get enough leverage to hoist herself over the crib rails.

Switch From a Crib to a Bed

So, crib tents are out. And sleep sacks might work for babies, but they might not for toddlers (especially older toddlers). They do make toddler sleep sacks, but it’s debatable as to whether it will work (or work for long anyway). What’s left, then?

The most effective way to keep your toddler from climbing out of the crib is simply to remove the crib altogether and to transition your toddler into a bed. It can be any kind of bed, really — a regular-sized twin bed works (as long as you add the appropriate safety rails), and so does a toddler bed. A mattress on the floor will even work! In fact, that’s what I’ve always preferred; having a mattress right on the floor minimized falls and made it easier for my boys to get into and out of their beds when they were younger.

Is My Toddler Ready for a Bed?

If your toddler is 2 years or older, then seriously consider making the switch from crib to bed in the case of climbing out of the crib (try to wait until 3-4 years old if they aren’t climbing!) By 2 years old, most toddlers are starting to outgrow their crib anyway; by 2 1/2, it’s likely they’re downright cramped. In fact, this may be why your toddler trying to escape — because sleeping in the crib isn’t comfortable anymore!

If your toddler is between 18 months and 2 years, consider making the switch. 18 months is early, but it’s still within the window of time (18 – 30 months) that is considered reasonable for transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed. 18 months will work for some babies, but not for others.

If your toddler is younger than 18 months, things get tricky. Try the sleep sack method first, as well as lowering the crib mattress. If that proves fruitless, consider making the switch to a bed.

In this article, we’re not going to tackle the ins-and-outs of how to help your toddler make that transition. We have a separate article on that topic, which you can read here!

Nicole’s Note:
“We hear from parents all the time who switch to a bed abruptly after a toddler climbs out once from their crib. If a toddler is under the age of two, we really try to keep them in the crib, if we can (our recommendation is not until 2 1/2 to 3, if possible). Just because he climbed out once doesn’t mean he will do it again. For some, it frightens them and they don’t try again. Unfortunately, some toddlers lack the impulse control to stay in a bed with imaginary boundaries (even if they conceptually understand they aren’t supposed to get out), so going to a toddler or twin bed too soon can create a ‘jack in the box’ with your toddler getting out of bed umpteen times a night!”

Is Toddler Crib Climbing an Isolated Problem, or Is It Part of Something Bigger?

Finally, something to think about before we wrap up: are your toddler’s crib escapades an isolated incident, or are they part of a larger problem?

If your toddler has always been a decent sleeper, and the crib escaping is something new, then you can focus on finding ways to put an end to his crib climbing. But if your toddler has never slept well, and the crib escaping is just one piece in a larger puzzle of terrible sleep habits, you may need to think bigger. Stop your child from escaping the crib, yes, but focus on improving your toddler’s sleep habits overall.

Have you dealt with a “jailbreaking” toddler climbing out of the crib? What steps did you take? Share your wisdom, parents — we love hearing from you!

Feeling ready to “tame” your little crib-climbing monkey? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of Toddler Sleep Secrets, our e-Book offering tips to help your toddler sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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55 thoughts on “How to Handle Your Toddler (or Baby!) Climbing Out of the Crib”

  1. I know you said that sleep tents are a no no. But they sell a lot of them on amazon. Some look like they could be a strangulation hazard, but some look okay and are being advertised as safe. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean they are but there are a lot of positive reviews for a handful of them.

    • Hi @Kacey – Thanks for writing with the crib tent update and info! We have not seen any hard evidence of newer crib tents being safe, and we still do not recommend them. The CPSC and the AAP still both have their pages posted with the dangers and recalls, so to be safe, we’dd recommend staying away from them until new evidence emerges of proven safety! Here are those posts in case you’re interested:
      American Academy of Pediatrics
      Consumer Product Safety Commision
      Thanks again for sharing Kacey!!

  2. Oh my goodness! The Little Grounders sounds like a miracle product, especially to this sleep-deprived mom after a night of 7 crib escapes!! Exhausted, I finally tried to put my toddler in the other twin bed in my son’s room (he’s nearly 2 years old) but the problem is he doesn’t understand imaginary boundaries and CANNOT be left alone for even a minute during the middle of the day without causing a disaster, much less the middle of the night!! I’m totally gonna try this!!! Thank you so much for telling people about this idea and if it works, I’m gonna pay it forward and share it with my readers too!

    • Thanks for writing @Rania – Sorry that your little guy had been escaping his crib! Good luck and we’d love to hear an update!

  3. The concept of moving even a two year old to a toddler bed or something similar if there climbing out of the crib is ridiculous, first if there not staying in the crib there not going to stay in a bed your just making it more convenient for them to get up and get into stuff.
    The next thing is dropping the mattress to its lowest setting and if that doesn’t work drop it to the floor, well it’s on the floor then it’s not mounted and all they have to do is list the crib from around them.

  4. These comments regarding little grounders pajamas seem suspect-
    I wonder if the authors who run this site endorse them or if someone is cleverly plugging their product on this site in the comments section

    • @Alex – Thank you for reading and for sharing! We do not endorse this product and are sure to include a disclaimer for any product we do. We try to provide a free, safe space for parents and caregivers to exchange ideas as much as we can in our comments section – even if it leads to a lively (but helpful and respectful) discussion about a particular product. It happens more often than you’d imagine! 🙂 Please keep reading and sharing, Alex.

  5. I have a 17 month old granddaughter that just started climbing out and she usually sleeps well at night. She will wake up about 3 or 4 am. She is very advanced for her age and is a monkey. Help… I am thinking of having her great grandmother make something like little grounders since they only go up to 2 T when I saw their website.

    Her mom and dad have stairs in the house with gates at both top and bottom and they are putting one in her room too in case she gets out of the crib at night. She is just beginning with potty training..

    Any suggestions

    • @Shay – Thank you for reading and for sharing with us! Handling a toddler climbing out of the crib can be nerve wracking and frustrating for sure – it’s also pretty dangerous for her if she were to fall or get stuck mid-climb or hurt as she roams around. As the article mentions, a sleep sack or something similar is a wonderful first start. I personally love sleep sacks for just this reason! If this doesnt’ work, you all should also seriously consider transitioning her to a bed and toddler proofing her room to reduce the risks of injury from climbing from the crib. Feel free to forward this article to her parents as well. Hang in there, Shay and best of luck to you guys. Please let us know how we can be of any further help!

    • That would terrify me! You should really get the Little Grounders! The 2T is for 2 to 3 year olds. Your granddaughter will do fine in the 24 month or 2T probably. If I recall correctly, you have 2 weeks for returns for a full refund or exchanges. Good luck!

  6. Thank you Cassie these Little Grounders are really fantastic! My son was an early walker (8 months) and around 9 months he started trying to climb out his crib. Unbelievable! It scared me to death. Anyway, we got these Little Grounders pajamas ( last week and they truly are amazing. He doesn’t even try anymore. I hope this can help someone else. As a first-time mom I was really freaking out over this. I kept imagining that he’d fall and hurt himself (my best friend’s brother fell from the crib and broke his LEG as a toddler). Anyway, hope this helps.

    • Where were these Little Grounders pajamas when I had children! I ordered these for my grandson and my daughter in law just called to say THANK YOU! She said that it was the first time in nearly 3 weeks that they were able to sleep uninterrupted.

      I ordered them ( on Sunday and they got there on Tuesday. I paid for 2 day. Really happy with this purchase.

  7. My 22 month toddler has started to climb out of the crib in the middle of the night. We used CIO method and they both (she is a twin) have had fairly consistent, good sleeping habits! Her twin sister climbed out once, we lowered her mattress and she gave up trying. This twin is not so easy – I have literally gotten up to put her back in the crib well over a dozen times as I am typing this (she climbs to the top of the railing and hangs out there as I think she knows now I will come in and put her back).

    I do not think they are ready for a bed yet – they aren’t behind at all, but clearly as I prepare to go in a 13th time she does know recognize the boundary/intention of sleeping in her bed/crib as it is.

    Help! Do I just stay consistent until she eventually tires of trying? Or am I really facing the fact that its time for a bed?!

    • @Lindsey, thank you for your comment! I am sorry you’ve been struggling with your daughter’s escape! If the tips in the article (such as lowering the crib mattress and trying a sleep sack) have not worked, you may want to check out our ebook all on toddler sleep or talking with one of our sleep consultants and they can give you a few more tips, or help you with the transition into toddler beds and establishing limits for them to help with the constant getting out of bed. You can view all of our consulting packages and ebook options on our services page here if you are interested:
      Hang in there! Thanks for using the Baby Sleep Site as a resource!

    • Just to add my two cents. I caved in and bought the little grounders pajamas that some of the commenters have mentioned and they were fantastic! Seriously, amazing!

      I recommend giving them a try. My son was nowhere close to being ready for a toddler bed.

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