Learn how to prevent your toddler climbing out of the crib, from extending your crib-sleeping days to transitioning into a toddler bed.
It was the thud—before the screaming and running to the door—that told me my eldest had somehow managed to climb out of the crib. For another son, it was subtler—I simply saw him standing outside of the crib after I had just put him in.
And for the third? Well, I knew I had a problem when I found my little climber straddling the rail of the crib between his legs and hollering, “Mama look—horsey!”
No matter the signal that your toddler is climbing out of the crib, every parent has that initial panic of, “Oh no, what do we do?!” We feel unprepared, especially since it can come out of nowhere.
Plus, pediatricians recommend that you switch to a bed once your child is able to climb out. And for good reason: transitioning from a crib and into a toddler bed—no matter how challenging—is still much better than a trip to the emergency room.
But not everyone can immediately go out and buy a bed that same day, or even switch their crib into one if they have that option.
Perhaps you don’t think your child is anywhere near ready for a toddler bed, assuming he won’t sleep in one. But you’re also afraid to put him back in the crib in case he climbs out again in the middle of the night.
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How to stop your toddler climbing out of the crib
So, what do you do when your toddler climbs out of the crib?
Don’t worry, friend—you can try to extend his crib sleeping days for now and learn how to prevent him from climbing out. These simple hacks can buy you some time while you find a more permanent solution.
Then, we’ll also talk about when you should stop using the crib completely, and how to make that eventual switch much smoother.
Let’s get started with these crib climbing tips and tricks:
Stage 1: Extending the use of the crib
If you’re in a pinch, extending the use of the crib can be your first option. You might need time to research a toddler bed, or you’re not able to convert the crib until the weekend. And sometimes, using the crib in creative ways can help you get the most out of it.
Let’s take a look at a few ways to work with the crib you have:
1. Lower the crib mattress as low as it can go
Sometimes we forget that the metal spring frame supporting the mattress isn’t on the lowest screw, and that we can move it a few notches lower. Many cribs are also adjustable, so even if the frame is already on its lowest setting, you can still adjust it.
Take a look at where the metal frame of the crib sits and whether you can move it as low as possible. The goal is to lower the mattress as much as it can go to temporarily prevent your toddler from being able to climb out. The lower it is, the harder it’ll be for him to do so, what with the higher boundaries of the crib.
Tip: Remove any bumpers from the crib, as he might be using these to climb out.
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2. Remove the spring frame completely
Is the mattress spring frame already installed as low as it can go? Then try removing it completely.
Depending on the crib design, you may be able to remove the metal frame. This allows the mattress to lie flat on the floor while still contained within the sides of the crib.
With the mattress flat on the floor and lower than usual, your toddler will have a more difficult time climbing out of the crib. Plus, the sides of the crib will still keep him contained in bed so you don’t have to worry about him getting up and about in his room.
3. Turn the crib around
Some parents have had luck extending their toddler’s crib sleeping days by turning the crib around and tucking it against a corner of the room.
Many cribs have one long side that’s higher than the other, and that side is usually against the wall. By turning the crib around, your toddler is less likely to climb out if the lower side—the one she can hurdle over—now faces the wall. In other words, she has a higher side to contend with.
4. Put a favorite toy or book in the crib
Sometimes all it takes to keep your toddler from climbing over the crib at night are a few incentives.
A favorite stuffed animal, a new toy she can’t get enough of, or a beloved book can sit in a corner waiting for her when she wakes up. That way, she feels less compelled to make a run for it when she can instead stay in bed and play or read.
Let her know she has these toys and books while she waits for you to come get her out of bed.
Stage 2: Transitioning out of a crib
Let’s say you’ve stretched crib-sleeping as long as possible, but you know those days are long gone. Except you don’t have a toddler bed just yet, or can’t convert the crib into one by tonight. What can you do?
1. Install a bed rail
Are you able to remove one side of your child’s crib? Even if the crib doesn’t come with its own toddler rail, you can remove one of the sides and install a bed rail instead. This way, he can climb in and out of bed without the risk of falling off.
You may not be able to order a toddler bed and install it by that night, but many stores do sell bed rails you can attach to his crib-turned-bed. And since he can now roam the room, baby proofing is a must. For instance, cover all electrical sockets and secure heavy furniture.
Tip: Make sure the bed rail is specifically for the bed size you need. Some are designed for crib-to-toddler beds, while others are for twin beds.
2. Put the mattress on the floor
When all else fails and you have zero options, you can simply remove the mattress from the crib and place it on the floor. Yup, even if that means your toddler can now roam the room freely. With the mattress on the floor, you won’t have to worry about him climbing out and accidentally injuring himself.
Keep the mattress in the same place in the room as the crib used to be so his environment feels somewhat familiar.
Similarly, place his pillow and head arrangement in the same position so he has one less thing to adjust to. And arrange the sheets, blankets, and other bedding as close as possible to how it was before—just minus the crib.
3. Transition into a toddler bed
Transitioning into a new toddler bed can feel overwhelming, especially when the move comes as a surprise. By morning you realized your toddler has climbed out of the crib. And by evening, you’re forced to come up with a solution, all while feeling unprepared.
Not exactly easy, I know.
Now that she’s able to roam the room, how do you make sure she actually stays in bed? Or worse, not run into your room, screaming and crying?
As challenging as it may be to try a new arrangement, remember to give her the benefit of the doubt. Habits take time to develop, including your toddler’s sleep.
Give your new arrangement a try, not only for one or two nights, but over the next few weeks. Yes, it can be tough to transition to a toddler bed, but that headache is much easier to deal with than a trip to the emergency room. Stay consistent so she knows what to expect and what is expected of her.
And more important, expect her to do well!
We get sucked into horror stories from other parents whose toddlers couldn’t sleep in a bed. Or we decide our kids are simply not ready for a toddler bed after a challenging night or two. But have faith in her ability to cope and learn—she just might surprise you.
Your first thought on seeing your toddler climbing out of a crib might’ve been, How in the world can I stop him from climbing out again?
Fair enough, especially since this usually comes as a surprise, leaving us feeling unprepared for the transition.
You can extend his crib-sleeping days by lowering the mattress frame or removing it completely. Try turning the crib around so the lower side faces the wall. And offer his favorite books and toys to entice him to stay.
If ditching the crib becomes a must, replace one side with a bed rail and turn it into a toddler bed. He’ll still get to sleep in the same place, but now it’s been converted into a toddler bed. You can also place the mattress on the floor, so he has no options of climbing at all.
And of course, you can always get a new toddler bed, one without high railings, to keep him safe in bed.
You can take comfort that you’re taking steps to avoid your toddler climbing out of the crib. And don’t worry, your little escape artist will soon get used to this new milestone—instead of straddling the crib rail and yelling “horsey.”
p.s. Check out A Big Kid Bed Is Coming! by Liz Fletcher to motivate him to sleep in a new bed:
Get more tips:
- 10 Things You Should Do when You Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed
- What to Do when Your Toddler Wakes Up Crying Every Morning
- Effective Techniques to Help Your Child’s Separation Anxiety at Night
- Toddler Bed Transition: Top 7 Items You Need when Your Child Resists
- What to Do when You’re Dealing with 1 Year Old Tantrums Already
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