The climbing phase can be totally different from child-to-child. For example, my kiddo didn’t really climb anything because he’s a big lug but I know of other babies that were hanging from the rafters at 8 months.
Most kids start climbing anything and everything after they learn to pull-up and have stronger upper body strength, usually after the crawling phase. NOTE: Any timeline is possible so preparing early is best practice.
The climbing phase also starts to overlap with the time when your child can “maybe” understand no, but also “maybe” not understand no. So although it is essential to verbally teach safety skills to your child, you can’t depend on them doing exactly as told after one or two sessions of my favorite game, “Mommy said NOOOOOOOOO!!!” P.S. Welcome to the rest of your life.
Always baby proof beyond the needs of your child, home environment and remember your adult supervision is the best safety measure. Word.
So what are the best baby proofing tips for your new climber? Here are the top areas and items to consider:
Unstable Objects. You will be amazed at the sheer gusto your child now possesses to CLIMB everything like a K2 mountaineer. Unfortunately, your little one may not understand the word “stability” in addition to the word “no”. The biggest danger here is that a small piece of furniture like a stool or a large toy with wheels can look really fun to your tot but is the fast-track to being sunny-side-up… or worse.
The best course of action is to first assess what really needs to stay in the room. Sorry, but you will probably have to remove that Ming Dynasty vase on the sofa table, let alone any loose piles of magazines. For items that need to stay like a TV and large pieces of furniture, there are stabilizing anti-tip straps. Even if your child is not a climber, it’s best practice baby proofing large pieces of furniture and stabilizing the TV so they cannot tip over on you or your child. Here's a shocking data point: every 30 minutes a child is treated in the ER due to furniture and TV-related injury. That's crazy - and preventable. Check out this how-to on securing your TV.
As a native Californian, I can attest that these straps are dual purpose for Earthquake preparedness – WIN, WIN.
The Stepping Stone. Little kids understand the concept of using one object as a tool to get somewhere else – or as I like to call it, toddler parkour. The issue is that climbing that chair now grants them access to a world of new things.
Even if you have done a great job only keeping stable items in your rooms, make sure you look to see if they provide a stable stepping stone for your mini getting into trouble. For example, window cords accessed by a sofa could be a strangulation hazard. In general, it is best practice to childproof by removing or relocating these "bridge" items. Our detached garage looks like a flea market on steroids for all the items in waiting to be reintroduced to our home in a few years. Sigh.
The Coffee Table. Your child will climb the coffee table. It’s just going to happen. The coffee table is almost as exciting as an iPad. Almost. It’s at the perfect height for them to pull up and see the world upright. That’s big time cool to a little guy/gal so expect it to be a constant battle ground. Truth... we're still working on this and my son understands NO. I clearly need to work on my bad cop side more.
First, make sure your coffee table can withstand a small humanoid bouncing around on/around it – I’m looking at you thin glass tabletops of the World. My good friend removed her glass coffee table all together and swapped in 2 bonk-safe poufs/ottomans. I love this approach and just make sure the poufs are stable.
But for most folks, you will keep and childproof your coffee table. Reinforce any sharp edge or corner with shock absorbing materials in case of falls and bonks. There are a few options out there, the most popular being soft foam padding that is secured to your furniture with adhesives. Parents aren’t crazy about this option because some adhesives can damage furniture, especially the stains of wooden finishes. Some other options exist where you actually screw down into your furniture but again, not a parent fave from a destructive standpoint.
One of the biggest issues that parents have with these products is that the protectors can easily be removed and aren’t very attractive. My little guy (still) pulls off the padding as a joke. Cute! Not really and the catalyst of my fierce online research regarding time-outs. BUT, they do work to lessen bonk impact so use them and be prepared to be constantly putting them back on.
The Bathroom. Your child will be more confident in trying out their climbing skills all over the house and the bathroom is no exception. The two main areas of concern are the bathtub and the toilet. Your little one may try to scale the side of the tub and the best course of action here is to practice what you should already be really good at – keeping one hand on your child at all times in the bathroom. Slippery surfaces and developing motor skills are a bad combo so the 1-hand rule is the best way to mitigate a little making a break for it.
On the toilet front (wow, that sounds a line from a bad ‘40s war movie), besides the icky thought of your child making contact with the bowl and seat, your child may try to scale the toilet. That’s a no, no. Kids are top heavy due to their larger head/body ratio so they can become very unstable and tip over. Toilet seat locks are one option to prevent access to water in the toilet bowl, ew, but this doesn’t prevent them from trying to climb onto the potty. Make sure if you have low lying items on the ground like toilet paper roll holders or cleaning tools, these are secured in a safe location outside of a fall zone.
The Baby Gate. Your kiddo will try climbing the safety gate as they grow taller and more agile – which can happen very quickly after initial mobility. It is ironic that the gate can become a safety concern if it is not installed properly or has a poor tension mount. It can come toppling down with the weight or force of your child. Forgeddaboutit when your kiddo tries to climb over the thing.
Gate regulations already minimize the ability for your little one to climb them, ahem, why do you think all the bars are vertical and not horizontal? Ding, ding: So little feet can’t clamor up them! But gate manufacturers recommend that you remove your safety gate if you child is over 2 years old or if the gate is under 75% of the height of your child.
This is good practice but you may be thinking, um, I have a tall 3 year old and a mobile 1 year old… what now coach? Turns out you are not alone as most parents have about 2 children in the house.
The number one rule is to teach your kiddo not to climb the gate – make this a non-negotiable at any age. The next course of action is to see if you can remove the gate and close any doors that access unsafe spaces. Some gates are made extra tall and available over 41” but, the unfortunate truth is that if you have a gate that your child keeps attempting to climb over you may need to remove it and consider another course of action – it’s just not safe.
Another recommendation for kids over 18 months of age comes from Healthychildren.org (run by the AAP) and they suggest teaching your child to safely climb the stairs. Then help your child learn to safely crawl down the stairs backwards on their stomach, hands and knees. After you child is walking, then teach your child to walk slowly down the stairs, one step at a time, while always holding a handrail and under your complete supervision.
Do NOT do some of the following things I’ve come across in my research on gates:
1) DO NOT: Use two gates stacked on top of one another. Problem: the gate was engineered for particular usage and installation requirements. Using them in any other fashion means you could be creating a new safety issue. Big time bad idea bears.
2) DO NOT: Raise the gate off the ground to give it extra height. Problem: Yes, the gate will be taller and thus harder for your little one to climb over but I’ve got 2 important, scary words for you: Entrapment. Hazard. By raising it, you now have a gap below the gate and your kid can get stuck. ASTM standards (ASTM creates the safety testing requirements) consider any space larger than 3” to be large enough for your child’s head, torso or other body part to become trapped, stuck or worse (yes, this can lead to death). So I know I said I’m #1 fan of hacks, but this is a huge whack and no-no.
3) DO NOT: Use a tension mount gate at the top of stairs. Problem: There’s just not enough stability for the weight of your kiddo. I’m going to harp on this point so get ready for the soap box to make frequent appearances in the next few posts. If you have stairs, hardware mounted gates are the only option. Period. Yes, I know your walls are beautiful just the way they are… but Stucco is a magical substance, and slip, slap, slop – your walls will be good as new. If you have wooden bannisters, there are additional installation kits that can provide a way for you to avoid drilling into wood. Make sure you read the user reviews to see if they will fit your bannister shape/size.
4) DO NOT: Videotape your child falling over your gate, laugh and then post it to YouTube. Problem: Put down the phone and tell your kid NOOO! Plus, you just documented and broadcast your recent entry into the “Not So Awesome Parent” competition. Yes, I’m judging. I shouldn't judge, but I’m judging. I get a little sensitive about falls over the gate because it can happen to the best of us. Ahem.
To wrap it up, kiddos are crafty and determined so babyproofing beyond their current phase and anticipating the "What ifs" for climbing scenarios may not be the most pleasant mental gymnastics but it will help you create a safer home for your tot. Have any other tips for climbers? Leave a note in the comments section below or drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.