How to Stop a Crib Climber?

 healthy little sleepers - crib climbing

I have a crib climber! Aaaaah! I must say my first baby never tried climbing out of the crib, and he was most definitely tall enough to do so (in the 95th percentile for ht). My daughter, on the other hand, is another story. I remember standing in the middle of my kitchen during nap time, and I turned around to put milk back in the fridge only to be startled by her standing right behind me. I must have gasped because her eyes opened really big looking scared. I quickly smiled and said, "you startled me". She giggled and said, "oh, sorry mommy". She definitely knows how to turn on the charm sometimes! And then I stupidly asked, "How did you get here"? And in her crafty 2.5 year old self ways says, "With my feet!". Well played my dear, well played... Can't argue with that one! I just picked her up and put her back in her crib, and she went to sleep. Phew! Looks like I dodged that one...

Nope! This happened a few days in a row, and I completely forgot to put what I preach into practice. So, it was time for me to do so. For her situation, I had two options that I knew I could choose from (there are other options too, but this is what I knew what I had to work with for her):

  1. MONITOR THE MONITOR - This is when I stand guard next to my monitor and watch for first signs of her climbing over. I basically needed to stake-out outside her room to catch her in the act. Once I see the first signs of climbing, I open her door and say "no" or "no climbing" firmly and close the door behind me. 
  2. SILENT RETURN - Essentially, when she comes out of her room, I pick her up and put her back in her crib with no talking, eye contact, or interaction. I would most likely need to do this several times... and when I say several, I mean a strong-willed toddler may do this up to 100 times! 

Decision time... I have already talked with her that there is no climbing during nap time or bedtime, that it's not safe, that her body needs to sleep during nap time, so we have more time to play later, and we developed sleep rules for her (we even made it into a song). Now, what to do, what to do...

I decided on monitoring the monitor. So, the next day, I put her down for her nap doing our usual routine, and I ran to get the monitor only to see that she already started climbing. So, I quickly ran back (luckily no stairs are involved - I can ride a bike all day, but stairs... forget it!), and I opened the door and said "no climbing," and closed the door. I hear a thump back into the crib and a dramatic (yes, dramatic... she's a sweet little drama queen) boo hoo hoo hoo. It was kind of a cry but not really - it was enough to make my heart break a little though. I think she was more sad that she got caught in the act. Then - to a few seconds later (literally) - to only hear the boo-hooing stop and the finger sucking start, and off to nap she went! Didn't climb over again!

Until... hahaha - a few weeks ago. She's now 3 years old. This time it was nighttime, and I knew she needed something more than the monitor. Why? Well, at first she would climb out and claim she had to poop (which she did... at first), her tummy hurt, she's sad, she's scared... all things you really don't want to ignore until you hear it for 3 weeks straight and come to realize these are her stalling tactics. Ok... now it's time for silent return! (Actually, it's really time for a big kid bed transition, but I'm not ready for that quite yet... she'll always be my baby. But I know it's time. You'll be hearing about that one soon though!)

So, Olivia and I had several little conversations throughout the day about her sleep rules, and about what is going to happen if she climbs out of her crib. I told her...

"After potty, your 2 books, water, and song, I will tuck you in only ONE time. If you climb out, I will bring you back to your room and you can climb back in on your own and tuck yourself in. There is no talking if you climb out. I will not talk because it's time for sleeping not talking".

That last one is important for her to hear because she is miss chatty kathy, and it's adorable to hear all the things she has to say, but she needed to know that I couldn't/wouldn't be talking back. I also had her repeat back to me what is going to happen when I put her to bed at night, so I knew she knew what to expect! So, the first night she came out 27 times... not back-to-back though. There was some time lapse in between the walk-outs. They basically lasted from 6:30pm to 8:45pm... good times! The first 3 times we did the silent return that night, she got a little upset but then settled in nicely. Then the next 24 times, she would just open her door and when I heard the latch, I walked over and she was just waiting there for me. She walked back into her room and climbed back in. I realized she's now testing me to see if I'm going to be consistent. Skip forward to night two, she only came out 7 times and did not get upset. And night three, she didn't come out at all. Woo Hooo! Let's celebrate and open a bottle of wine! 

Now, mind you she still comes out here and there but it's not every night, and it's between 1-3 times. Sometimes other tools are needed to help with your little the jack-in-the box if it becomes a never-ending "thing", such as more parameters around bedtime, a gate, a bedtime pass... there are lots to choose from. It just depends on your child, putting all the right pieces together, and your consistency. This silent return really worked well for us - for her. The really important part to being successful with your climber is to put the right practice in place, follow your plan, and make sure your little one knows what to expect. At this age they are fully capable of understanding, communicating... and of course testing! 

Now I'm off to make my big kid bed decisions... mattress on floor, room share with big brother (he actually seems to be going for this, as we talk about it!)? Stay tuned!

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 Susie Menkes, PhD is a Certified Infant + Toddler Sleep Specialist through the Family Sleep Institute (FSI), and she is dedicated to helping families get their little ones to be healthy little sleepers. As a mom of two, she knows and understands what you are going through and is here to support, educate, and guide you on all matters related to sleep.

Susie Menkes, PhD is a Certified Infant + Toddler Sleep Specialist through the Family Sleep Institute (FSI), and she is dedicated to helping families get their little ones to be healthy little sleepers. As a mom of two, she knows and understands what you are going through and is here to support, educate, and guide you on all matters related to sleep.