“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 debateable 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 definitely make the switch from crib to bed. By 2, 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’s 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!
“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 “jail breaking” 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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