It starts first with one foot and then the other, that milestone of freedom, the doorway to adventures beyond the floor and furniture of cruising height. Walking? No. Climbing. The mere word is enough to strike terror into the hearts of experienced and inexperienced parents alike. Learn how to cope here!
The climbing child
Not all children are interested in climbing. Many toddlers are content to walk, then run, finding their self-expression and curiosity satisfied on safer ground. Others may begin their ascents far sooner than cruising or walking age. Still other children may not discover the yearning to scale obstacles until an older, bolder age.
New parental responsibilities
At any age, a child who climbs places him/herself in a dangerous, potentially fatal position. Parents of these pint-sized acrobats must remain vigilant, diligent, and resourceful: watchful of the climber in question, attentive in removing the child from heights, and creative in seeking solutions to frequent climbing hazards.
Michelle Pearson vividly recalls the day her son Sean, not yet two years old, was nowhere to be found. Michelle and her husband had no clue where the boy was, until he tapped his father on the shoulder and said, “Hi, Daddy.” To their horror, Sean had climbed up a ladder and onto the roof where his father was working!
Nicholas, another champion climber at just under three, managed on one occasion, during naptime, to climb out of his window onto a small balcony; another time, he scaled a back fence to explore a neighbor’s backyard — one story below his own.
Signs that you may have a climber on your hands
So how do you know if your child is a climber, or just an active toddler? Here are a few things to look for:
- Toddlers with a propensity to climb frequently stand on one foot when cruising.
- Climbers are often also “peepers,” standing on tiptoe with hands and arms extended to get a better view of their surroundings.
- Climbing may be an inherited impulse; if you or your spouse were climbers, take early precautions.
Truths, half-truths and fiction
Here’s a look at conventional wisdom and how it compares to reality.
Conventional wisdom: Early walkers will be climbers.
Fact: Walking age offers no predictability in regard to climbing.
Conventional wisdom: Fearless children will be climbers.
Fact: Each child is unique; some who climb are fearless, others harbor many fears, simply not of heights.
Conventional wisdom: A child who injures him/herself while climbing will learn to stop climbing.
Fact: This is a half-truth. An injury such as a broken elbow, may cause certain climbers to give up the habit, most climbers however, will go right up the nearest tree, cast and all!) Jerri Ledford’s son fell from a fence and broke his arm. Jerri explains, “Later that same week, I looked out the back door and guess what? He was tightrope walking across the top bar of the fence! To get there, he had to climb into a tree and then drop over the fence.”
Conventional wisdom: Firm discipline will curtail climbing.
Fact: Not true. Pediatrician Paul Wassermann explains that even spanking will not inhibit a child bent on climbing — they will simply keep getting back up again. Conventional wisdom: Young children are less prone to serious injury from a short fall. Fact: This is true: children’s frames are more flexible; their bones, not yet fully developed, are less brittle and more cartilaginous.
How to cope
Parenting a climber can be a stressful occupation. It is important to remember that climbers, along with being fearless in the face of falling, are unable to comprehend their parents’ fears. Remaining calm may ensure that your child does not panic, thus preventing a potential fall.
When approaching a child who has clambered into a dangerous position, use a firm and level tone of voice, and advance slowly and methodically rather than running toward them. When scared or excited, a young child is likely to move quickly and without thought; therefore, be cognizant of your child’s state of mind when removing them from a climbing situation.
The old adage, “What goes up must come down” is not always true of climbing children. It is not rare for climbers to become stranded in their perches, requiring parental or even professional (police/fire departments) rescue efforts. There is one cardinal rule to remember when attempting to extricate your stuck climber. Be cautious. Watch for hazards that might not be apparent (loose boards, holes, power lines, etc.), place your hands and feet carefully, and plan your descent in advance, or you too might wind up unable to get down!
- Remove unnecessary climbing temptations. This includes infrequently used furniture such as extra chairs, toy boxes, step stools, etc.
- Essential items may be rearranged and/or altered to prevent use as a climbing aid or destination.
- Turning kitchen chairs on their sides, or upside down, piling non-scalable items in armchairs or on sofas and placing low pieces of furniture on their ends may serve to deter little hands and feet from seeking purchase there.Provide acceptable climbing toys in safe locations. (i.e. jungle gym, a slide with a ladder, etc.)
- Cover kitchen drawer handles. The kitchen is a favorite haunt for climbers. Use vertical tubes or other means to keep drawer and cupboard handles from being used as ladders. Put cereal and other favored snack items in low storage spaces, allowing child access without climbing.
- Use window locks. For persistent climbers, this allows adequate airflow with a gap too narrow for a child to fit through.
- Be consistent — be persistent. Tell your child “no” when they climb. Remove them from the spot and try to engage them in another activity. Keep doing this as long as the child returns to the climbing point. A toddler or young child will quickly become frustrated by this repetitive action (as long as it is not made into a game) and seek other diversions.
Parents of climbers shouldn’t despair. Though a love of high places and climbing may remain with your child throughout his/her life, the very obvious dangers of climbing will lessen with time and maturity. Use these stop-gap measures to keep your climber safe during the toddler and preschool years, ensuring that when he/she is old enough to help you plant a tree, they will still be around to climb it!