The first time my son Cory, now 12, climbed to the top of the stairs, he tumbled right back down; within the hour he was vomiting. After rushing him to the hospital, my worst fear was confirmed: he’d suffered a concussion.
Whether you’re a brand-new or more experienced parent (Cory is my seventh), climbing and falling is a natural part of toddlerhood. While constant supervision is often impossible, here are some practical strategies to keep your kids safe.
Kelly Riley of Collierville has accepted that her 15-month-old son, Pitt, is a climber. “One of the first times I left him alone for a minute, he was standing at the top of a four-step ladder when I returned,” says this mom of six.
Most parents have left a room only to return and find their toddler in a dangerous spot. If circumstances don’t allow for scanning the area, remember it’s often just as easy to scoop baby up and take him with you as it is to go check on dinner alone. If you can’t take him along, secure him in a safe place such as his crib, even if he protests. Just as you would never leave a baby alone in the tub, don’t leave him alone in a room that, to him, might resemble an obstacle course.
Look for teaching time.
With a lot of patience and repetition, kids can be taught not only how to climb but what objects are safe and acceptable for climbing. “Because I have resigned myself to the fact that Pitt is a climber, I let him practice climbing into and out of his high chair while I supervise,” says Riley. “After all, if he’s going to climb, he might as well be safe, and so far, it’s working.”
Mom of four Andi Haines quickly learned to set boundaries for her climber when son, Drew, began using the dining room chairs to climb onto higher surfaces at just 13 months. “My husband and I put all the chairs in the garage for a while, but quickly realized how ridiculous life without chairs was,” she says. Haines taught her son what was and was not acceptable: climbing a chair to sit on was okay, climbing a chair to walk on the kitchen counters was not.
“Just because you teach your kids climbing safety doesn’t mean they can climb on anything they want,” says Haines. Baby gates, stairs, and bookshelves, for instance, are off-limits. “When I catch Jake in the middle of a dangerous climb, I hold his hips and tell him firmly, ‘Feet on the floor.’” she says, adding that her son quickly recognized the command. “I will stand there as long as it takes for him to make the decision to get back down, holding him so he cannot go up anymore while providing assistance once he is ready to climb down.”
Taking the game out of it helps communicate the safety issue. “If I just pick him up, tell him no and get him down, he thinks it is a riot and wants to do it again,” she says, “but stopping him mid-climb seems to help him remember the boundaries.”
Since climbing is one way babies and toddlers learn, parents should keep in mind it’s okay to allow exploration. “My husband and I accepted the fact that if they are going to climb, they are going to fall and they are going to be alright,” says Haines. “If Jake keeps climbing a small chair, for instance, he will fall a few times before he masters how to get up and down from it, but it doesn’t take too long.”
“I used to freak out if Pitt wanted to climb in a little chair, thinking it would tip over or he would fall out,” adds Riley, “but I have relaxed about it. I have accepted that he is going to fall and I try to keep the falls small.”
Haines adds that on those days Jake just can’t seem to get the climbing out of his system, the playground provides a great alternative. “I feel like it is almost impossible to climb-proof my house, so we head outside.”
With patience, repetition and clear instruction, even the youngest climbers can be taught safety, balance, and boundaries.
Margie Sims is the mother of 10 and does climb control from her home in Virginia. Follow her blog at margiesims.com