Coping With Climbers
Vigilance can lessen the danger.

by Alessia Cowee

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 parents. Fortunately, there are ways to cope.

Not all children are interested in climbing. Many are content first 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. Some children do not discover the yearning to scale obstacles until an older, bolder age.

At any age, a child who climbs places himself in a dangerous position. Parents of these pint-sized acrobats must remain watchful of the climber, attentive in removing the child from heights and creative in eliminating climbing hazards.

Many children begin climbing between 6 and 8 months old. These children are often injured more seriously than their toddling counterparts, in part because parents are under the impression that children this young are physically incapable of climbing. It is never too early to take precautions.

Climbing Behavior
Toddlers with a propensity to climb frequently stand on one foot when cruising. Climbers also are often “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.

Walking age offers no predictability in regard to climbing. Bravery is no indicator either. Some who climb are fearless; others harbor many fears, simply not of heights.
Pediatrician Paul Wassermann, MD, says that discipline will not inhibit children bent on climbing. They will simply keep getting back up again.

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.

Climbers sometimes become stranded in their perches, requiring parental or even police or fire department rescue efforts. There is one cardinal rule when attempting to
extricate your stuck climber: Be cautious. Watch for hazards that might not be apparent (loose boards, holes, power lines), place your hands and feet carefully and plan your descent in advance.

When approaching a child who has clambered into a dangerous position, use a firm, level tone of voice, and advance slowly rather than running toward her. When scared or excited, a young child is likely to move quickly and without thought.

Successful Strategies
Here are steps you can take to prevent dangerous climbs.

 Creating a safe room in the home, designed specifically for play only, can keep a young climber safe and away from hazards such as beds, couches, shelves and tables.

Remove unnecessary climbing temptations, including infrequently used furniture such as extra chairs, toy boxes and step stools.

Rearrange or alter essential items 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.

In safe locations, provide acceptable climbing toys such as a jungle gym or a slide with a ladder.

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.

Secure shelves to walls. The “stair-step” design of shelving makes it a constant temptation and chronic danger to little climbers.

Be consistent and persistent. Tell your child “no” when he climbs. Remove him from the spot and try to engage him 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 and seek other diversions.

Though a love of high places and climbing may remain with your child throughout her life, the very obvious dangers of climbing will lessen with time and maturity.

Alessia Cowee is a freelance writer.