Why Is Your Toddler Climbing on Everything?

Toddler crawls on mats in a gymnasium
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It's adorable the first time a wobbly tot tries to pull up onto the couch. You might not be able to stop the smiles and giggles; maybe you even manage to videotape their struggle to conquer the La-Z-Boy so you can relive the cuteness.

Skip ahead several weeks or a few short months, though, and the happy feeling might be gone as you watch your toddler trying to scale every piece of furniture or vertical structure in their path. Welcome to the world of parenting a climbing toddler, be it ever so frantic.

Climbing is an important stage in the development of gross motor skills, but it can be hard behavior for parents to manage. It can also lead to the ruin of many a couch cushion or bookcase. The greatest concern for most parents, though, is safety. When your child falls, they could get scraped and bumped or suffer more serious injuries.

Trying to stop a climbing toddler is not likely to work. A better approach is to learn what motivates your child to climb, look for ways to redirect that urge and do whatever you can to lessen the risks of injury.

Why Toddlers Climb

They climb because they can (or at least can try to). Kids start to gain greater control over their body movements at around 18 months of age. They realize they can throw that ball, run fast across the park, and pull themselves up onto furniture.

It's innocent at first: your toddler just wants to sit up on the couch like mommy and daddy. Once they find the power in their body, though, your child may want to explore boundaries just like they do with everything else.

For some children, the inevitable knocks and understandable fear of those high places are enough to keep them from pushing the limits too far. These kids will probably be easily discouraged from climbing by a few firm reminders and demonstrations that chairs are for sitting and bookcases are not steps.

There is another personality type, though, that will not be stopped. For these toddlers and 2-year-olds, climbing is a thrill. They want to flex their muscles and satisfy their curiosity about what's up on the top shelf. Toddlers with older siblings may be even more determined climbers because they are trying to imitate the kids around them.

How to Stop a Climber

Short of removing from your home every vertical object as well as objects that could be stacked vertically, you can't really stop a climber. And really, you don't want to (at least not in the long run).

Climbing is an excellent way for young children to build strength, flexibility, and balance. It is also a way for young children to learn about their environment and to gain confidence.

Of course, even if you relax the no-climbing rule in your own home, there are places and times in which climbing just cannot be allowed (say, at church or at a relative's un-childproofed home). In this case, you can try applying discipline techniques to stop the behavior, but try to avoid making it seem that all climbing is forbidden.

If your reaction to any and all climbing is dramatic and loud, beware. You might accidentally fall into one of the worst toddler behavior traps: Turning that which is forbidden into a fun game that gets a parent's attention.

Redirect a Toddler's Energy and Interest

While some children seem to be climbers by nature, it doesn't mean that your child will only be happy when they're scaling tall (and not-so-tall) structures. At the heart of the desire to climb is just that basic toddler desire to be active. You might be able to avoid the worry and chaos that comes with climbing if you can satisfy your toddler's urge to move with activities that keep their feet on the ground.

First, accept that toddlers aren't made to stay still. Coming to terms with that fact can help you be more patient when faced with a rambunctious tyke.

Next, give your child time and space to move. An hour or two in the yard or at the playground is excellent, and it may tire a toddler enough that they'll want to nap or rest for a while afterward. But once they're awake again, they will be ready to go, go, go again.

If you try to keep your child confined or provide toys that are just of the "sit-and-be-calm" variety, it's very likely to backfire and push your active toddler to (literally) start climbing the walls. Instead, set up safe-to-climb play spaces. Find a spot, inside or outside, where you can give your child some freedom to explore independently.

Fill that area with toys that encourage toddlers to be active as well as pillows, couch cushions, and soft materials that kids can stack up and climb on. Having a playmate around might also distract your child from climbing. Even if the two only are in the parallel play stage, a pal may eliminate the need some climbers have to find something more thrilling to do.

Keep Young Climbers Safe

Of course, all the acceptance and distraction in the world won't stop you from jumping in fear every time you spot your toddler teetering off the edge of a window sill or hanging from the chandelier. Knowing that you're not going to be able to stop the climbing, concentrate on creating a safe-as-possible environment for little ones who will (inevitably) fall.

One area to pay special attention to is crib safety. It usually doesn't take too long for climbers to learn how to scale the crib's sides. Some parents might try to keep a toddler safe in a crib by using a crib tent. Others see it as a sign that it's time to transition a toddler to a bed.

Beyond the nursery, look around the areas where your toddler usually plays and see how you can make the environment safer by taking steps such as:

  • Placing a toddler-friendly step stool near bookshelves or by other areas that they can't reach (and where you don't mind them grabbing things off the shelf).
  • Packing away trinkets, knickknacks, and other items that are magnets for curious toddlers (it's temporary; you should be able to put them back out by the time your child hits preschool).
  • Moving furniture away from the windows and be sure that all windows are properly secured to prevent falls.

Always secure heavy furniture, such as bureaus and bookcases, to the wall using inexpensive, easy-to-install anchors (sold at hardware and home improvement stores). If your TV is not already wall-mounted, you can strap it down too. Young children can be severely injured or even killed if a television set falls on them.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that climbing is one of those phases that toddlers will pass through. Any stress you feel now will not be forever. Your toddler will outgrow the desire to climb on everything ... just as they discover something new that is likely to make you feel just as concerned.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important milestones: Your child by 18 months.

  2. Yeh ES, Rochette LM, McKenzie LB, Smith GA. Injuries associated with cribs, playpens, and bassinets among young children in the US, 1990-2008Pediatrics. 2011;127(3):479‐486. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1537

  3. Cusimano MD, Parker N. Toppled television sets and head injuries in the pediatric population: A framework for prevention. J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2016;17(1):3-12. doi:10.3171/2015.2.PEDS14472

By Maureen Ryan
Maureen Ryan is a freelance writer, editor, and teaching consultant specializing in health, parenting, and education.