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How to Keep Your Toddler In Their Crib

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, MS
Simple solutions to keep your toddler from climbing out of their crib.

Is your toddler getting dangerously close to escaping their crib? Or maybe they’ve already done it and tumbled to the floor?

It’s a struggle many parents face once their kids reach a certain age — just keeping that kid in their bed!

Before you give up and switch to a toddler bed prematurely, make sure you’re avoiding common practices that encourage and even assist toddlers in their ambitious crib jailbreaks.

Just like any other behavior, crib climbing is a habit that can be caught and corrected with patience and a little help.

When To Use A Toddler Bed

Many parents jump right into putting their toddlers in a big bed when they make that first terrifying fall from the crib, or even when they begin to show signs of attempting their great escape.

It may seem like a good idea at first, but it’s actually recommended for a toddler to stay in a crib until they’re 3 years old. Waiting until this age helps promote positive sleeping habits, and will help teach your child to stay in bed.

A problem that many parents face when rushing their toddler into a bigger bed is that it gets harder to keep a curious kid contained.

Bigger beds are much easier to escape — this makes teaching good sleeping habits far more difficult.

1. See It As A Lesson

It’s key to remember that toddlers who begin to climb from their cribs aren’t aware of what they’re doing is wrong.

Behaviors and habits can be changed with the correct teaching methods, though it can be frustrating when 3 a.m. rolls around, and your little one is still trying to leap from the top of the railing like a pro wrestler.

Addressing the issue early on and continuing to correct their behavior works in most cases, and your child should learn to stay in their designated sleeping spot pretty quickly.

2. Build a Bedtime Routine

Staying in the crib helps to establish familiar bedtime routines and habits that will carry from crib to bed. It’s a difficult time in many households because children don’t always understand what a new bed means and why they have to sleep in it.

By sticking with a familiar place of rest and safety, you can implement a schedule that helps make moving your toddler to a bed easier later down the road.

Once a bedtime routine has been introduced successfully, you can start talking with your toddler about having their very first big kid bed. Getting them excited for it in advance can make the transition to the bed smoother.

Bedtime Tip

Make the purchase or introduction of their brand-new toddler bed a reward for good bedtime behavior. Many toddlers love the idea of feeling big and grown, so hype up the change in a positive, upbeat way.

How Do I Keep My Toddler In The Crib?

So you’ve made the decision to wait on breaking out the toddler bed and throwing your little one for a loop, but you still need to equip yourself with the tools to survive the dreaded climbing phase.

At the risk of sounding like a tech expert who asks if you have “turned it off and on again” yet, I want to remind you to make a couple of essential changes to help prevent climbers from succeeding in their mission.

When you first start noticing your toddler beginning to climb out of the crib, make sure you’ve checked these things:

  • Mattress settings: In many cribs, the mattress height can be adjusted higher or lower. Put your toddler’s crib mattress as low as it will go to prevent them from climbing out. Do this as soon as they begin to stand.
  • Remove toys and pillows: Children shouldn’t have pillows or toys in their cribs for the first year to help reduce the chance of SIDS. Even after the first year, keep your toddler’s crib bare, or they’ll be able to create steps out of their clutter (1).
  • Put the lower end against the wall: Some cribs have a side that’s lower than the other. If this is the case for you, make sure this lower side is pushed against the wall so your child won’t have an easier escape route.
  • Separate your kids: If you are a multi-child household, a well-meaning, bored sibling could be the accomplice to your toddler’s escape. Separating your kids — to sleep — will also provide fewer distractions, so they will both fall asleep easier too!
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4 Ways To Change Climbing Behavior

Have you passed the initial preventative measures and still find your toddler giving it their all to escape the crib? Don’t despair! There are plenty of ways to start changing behaviors and encouraging a positive, obedient mindset towards sleeping.

For fast fixes, try out one — or all — of these tips for adventure-hungry kiddos.

1. Adjust their bedtime

As toddlers grow into their next stage of development, between ages 1-3, their internal clock changes, too. Like older kids, a child’s natural need for sleep adjusts. Your restless toddler may just be a result of having too early of bedtime (or naptime!).

Try documenting when your toddler actually falls asleep, as opposed to when they’re put in their crib, and adjust your schedule to reflect their biological clock. Then you can gradually adjust these times by 10-minute increments each night after you’ve established a good bedtime routine and they’ve learned to stay still.

On the flip side, you may be putting your toddler to bed too late. Cranky, exhausted children who are beyond their limit will have a much harder time falling asleep, and exhibit stubborn behavior to reflect that.

It’s suggested that a bedtime between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. works best, depending on your toddler’s own internal clock (2).

2. Try a toddler sleeping sack

We’ve learned all about the benefits of swaddling our infants, but have you considered extending the practice in a toddler-friendly way?

Introducing a toddler sleep sack to an avid climber can help them learn what they’re doing is wrong, stop them from climbing, and provide additional comfort.

Create an understanding about what the sleep sack means with your child by putting it on them at the same part in their bedtime routine every night. When you dress them up in it, they’ll figure out it’s a cue for bedtime and relaxation.

Look in your local baby store or online for safe, soft options!

3. Only use the crib for sleep

Sometimes it’s tempting to turn to the crib as a means of punishment or playtime. Putting your child into their crib when it’s not the time for sleep gives them the wrong idea of its purpose, and may make it harder for them to understand why they have to stay inside at night.

Children associate their feelings with places very easily, so if you have an upset toddler, keep them out of the crib until they’ve calmed down.

By making the crib a place for sleep and only sleep, you’re setting them up for a firm understanding and a positive association with their designated area for bedtime. The best part? When you move them to a toddler bed, this behavior will carry over!

3. Return the toddler to the crib silently

Sometimes, toddlers keep climbing out of their crib to get the attention of the caregiver. By returning the toddler silently to the crib, you will decrease the likelihood that the toddler doing things other than sleep.

6 Methods If You Have A Climber

Before you treat yourself to something nice after finally getting your toddler to stay in the crib, make sure you’re prepared for a relapse in behavior. Once a climber, always a climber!

Safety should be maintained even after your toddler seems to have changed their climbing behavior.

1. Babyproof the whole house

If you have a skilled escape artist for a child, don’t be fooled into thinking they’ll stay in their rooms quietly if they climb from the crib. Your little Houdini may have access to the whole house, so it’s important to babyproof it entirely, even after the child has gone to sleep.

Baby gates should be up, electric outlet covers on, and anything harmful moved higher than your toddler’s reach.

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2. Keep the toddler’s room clean

Not only should you minimize the clutter in their crib, for both safety reasons and to prevent them from climbing out, but you should keep the area around the crib clean, too. Toddlers are curious! They have a natural instinct to explore and they’ll be drawn to things that are left out.

Having the toys put away and out of sight will present less temptation for your toddler. It also keeps them safe in case they do escape and start messing around while the house sleeps.

3. Continue using a baby monitor

Investing in a good video baby monitor is one of the most important purchases you should consider making as a parent, even before your toddler decides to launch themselves over the crib railing.

By keeping an eye on their actions before they drift off to sleep, you can stay diligent and proactive in stopping their behavior, while also eliminating risks falling before it even happens.

Sure, we know every mom has the set of eyes in the back of her head, but baby monitors are every mom’s fantastic back-up.

4. Use doorknob guards

For parents of anyone under the age of 2, doorknob guards are a gift. By preventing access to certain rooms — or keeping a toddler in one, such as their nursery — during the night, you reduce the risk of access to other dangers if your toddler defies all effort made to keep them inside the crib.

If your toddler still won’t stay in their crib, it may be time to move them to a toddler bed and see if it offers any improvement. Making the transition is different for every child, but if you explain it to your toddler and walk them through this new change in their bedtime routine, they’ll adjust quickly.

Some toddlers do better in a bed, so the best person to make this decision is the one who knows them the best — that’s you, mom!

5. Consider a toddler bed as a last resort

If you have a toddler who keeps climbing out of bed despite using all the methods discussed in this article, consider switching to a toddler bed, assuming your toddler is at least 18 months old. You can use strategies in this video to keep the toddler in bed.

6. Encourage toddlers to self-soothe with the extinction (ignoring) method

If you have a toddler who cannot fall asleep, consider the possibility of childhood insomnia. Toddlers who have trouble falling asleep before the age of 2 often have trouble self-soothing. If your toddler is trying to get your attention or making demands during bedtime, ignore the toddler. It may seem difficult at first, but it is an effective way to teach the toddler how to self-soothe to make sleeping easier (3).

How To Make Bedtime Easier

If your family is anything like mine, you’ll know that nighttime can be the biggest stress of the day. From cranky attitudes to strong-willed fighters who hate bedtime, getting everyone tucked away safe and sound can be a major pain, especially if you’re tired already.

Plus, you have a whole day’s worth of mess to worry about cleaning and a glass of wine that desperately needs attention.

Making bedtime easier should be a priority, especially for kids ages 3 and under. Establishing a simple routine as soon as possible will make future transitions and changes much smoother, giving you a better sleep too.

Start by sticking to a schedule, even if they beg and plead for 10 more minutes awake. Picking your battles is important, but bedtime should be a time your whole family sticks to. Children love and need routine — even if they don’t want you to know that!

Get your kids excited about bedtime by including one or two fun activities reserved for nap or nighttime, like reading, and really talk them up. Use games, songs, and even rewards to encourage a positive attitude towards bedtime.

Headshot of Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, MS

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, MS

Po-Chang Hsu, MD received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Hsu has interests in both pediatrics and neonatology, and he also loves writing, walking, and learning new languages.

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