Stop Climbing Into Trouble

Dear Polly,

My three-year-old daughter has recently begun doing some very dangerous things (i.e. climbing up bookshelves, standing on chairs, getting on tables/dressers). We have told her over and over again not to do these things and explained that she could get hurt very badly, but she continues to do them, right in front of us, after we’ve told her not to. Do you have any tips for how we can get her to stop climbing on everything?

I’m sure you’re wondering how your precious baby turned into a monkey! I feel your pain. My three year old has been doing gymnastics and climbing on everything she shouldn’t since she started walking. It’s a completely normal phase of development. They just want to explore everything! Just like she used to put everything in her mouth, now she wants to try to climb it all!

You won’t be able to stop her climbing, but there are some things you can do to help keep her safe. First, make sure your house is climb-proofed. When she was a baby, you probably covered outlets, locked cabinets, and put up gates. Take a look around your home and make sure you’ve done all you can to keep her from climbing her way into trouble.

Along those same lines, be sure to secure any furniture to the wall that she might attempt to climb, like dresser drawers or bookshelves. Also, keep things off of the tops of surfaces that she is trying to access. If she’s constantly climbing for the same item on top of your office desk, then move it!

Next, purchase a sturdy stool that she can use and encourage her to use it whenever she looks like she’s trying to figure out a way to climb something! By using a sturdy stool, she’ll be more likely to safely access what she’s trying to reach (instead of scaling up the drawers of a dresser!).

Now that you’ve gotten those things taken care of, set up a climbing zone in your home where climbing is safe and acceptable. Be sure to do this in a carpeted area! Find some fun things that she can climb on that aren’t too dangerous. For example, there are plenty of indoor climbers that you can purchase. You might even find that a child size indoor trampoline would help her get her energy out (supervised and on the carpet of course!).

Finally, begin to encourage her to climb in her safe zone. When she goes to climb on something that is not safe, tell her no firmly and then redirect her to her safe zone. This will take some effort on your part at first, but eventually she will get the hang of it.  Also, be sure to give her lots of opportunities for climbing outdoors under your supervision.  You might even need to enroll her in a toddler gymnastics class!  Who knows, you might have a future gold medalist on your hands.

You’re not going to be able to stop her sense of adventure and desire to climb. And really you don’t want to. It’s a natural part of her development. By redirecting her to a safe climbing spot indoors and encouraging safe supervised climbing outdoors, you’ll foster her desire to explore and you’ll have the peace of mind that she’s safe!

If you’ve got a question that you’d like to see featured on Ask Polly, just visit my contact page and submit your idea or question. I look forward to hearing from you!

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