Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Climbing Rules! …and Regulations


Recently I was asked about how our family handles Cragbaby’s enthusiastic climbing skills in and around the house – and more specifically, in areas that aren’t safe to practice heel-hooks and fist jams.  In non-climbing families, its probably easiest to implement a few hard and fast rules.  For example – NO CLIMBING.  For obvious reasons that mixed message would cause a lot of confusion in our house.  Though we are definitely learning as we go, here are a few concepts that have proved to be helpful for us – by all means they aren’t gospel, and I am very interested to get some discussion going on this topic – so please read on and feel free to comment below!

1.  DON’T SQUELCH CREATIVITY:  Climbing is a developmental skill that all toddlers enjoy learning.  By providing secure, age-appropriate outlets for your child to hone their emerging skills, he or she can explore their vertical world in a healthy and safe environment (as well as give them the opportunity for some exercise!)  The best options are usually found outdoors – on playgrounds, at parks, and of course rocks.  Especially for the smallest climbers, however, sturdy everyday objects such as stools, chairs, and boxes can make for great indoor jungle gyms.  Just make sure that your budding explorer is within close proximity for the inevitable tumbles, which brings me to number 2…

2.  REINFORCE THE VALUE OF A GOOD SPOT:  If you’re child is born into a climbing family, odds are good that they’ve seen this concept put into practice more times than they can remember.  But even if he or she isn’t familiar with technical climbing, the idea of having someone behind you providing a “spot” is still a valuable lesson to learn,especially when you’re little one is still in the “projecting phase” and trying to figure out all the moves to hoist themselves and and onto that living room chair.  A good example of one of these limited access areas in our house was Cragbaby’s Changing Table Problem. When he first tackled this project, he was pretty unsteady on his feet.  We tried to establish a “wait for Mommy/Daddy to spot you” routine early on.  C took to this pretty easily, and even now will generally wait excitedly for a spot before getting too high off the ground. 

3.  IT’S ALL ABOUT WORD CHOICE:  Regardless of how aesthetic a line may look, it is inevitable that some parts of the house will always be closed to climbing (unstable shelving units, lampstands, china cabinets, etc).  In situations where access is closed and the law needs to be laid down, choose a word or phrase that is clear but not confusing to a toddler that does not possess the powers of abstract reasoning.  For example, instead of just saying “Get down, no climbing,” which is clear at the time, but gets muddled at the climbing gym, we usually say something like “Get down, that’s not safe.”  As he gets older and has the developmental capacity to understand reasoning, we’ll probably have a fair amount of discussions about safety with regards to climbing. 

Admittedly our family probably allows Cragbaby to be more on the adventurous side when it comes to scaling household walls, but I do think there is value in letting children explore (in a safe way of course).  In my opinion the act of climbing is intuitive and natural to most kids.  Sadly, however, I think a lot of times that instinct is squashed by overprotectiveness, and replaced instead with activities that are “easier” for adults to “supervise” – ie video games and TV.  Not that video games and TV are inherently bad, but I’ve seen a lot of instances where they are used as baby-sitters in lieu of spending quality time together.  I know this is taking it one step further from the original topic of this post, but I’d be willing to go out on a limb to say that maybe if we as grown-ups allowed our kids to explore and just be kids more often, we wouldn’t have the obesity and couch potato epidemics we have today…  But enough of the soapbox rant.  That’s our family’s take on climbing rules around the house, for what its worth, which may or may not be much.  I’d love to hear from other families (climbers as well as non-climbers) as to how you handle boisterous toddler forays into the vertical world!



3 Responses to “Climbing Rules! …and Regulations”

  1. I like this article! As our kids, especially our boy became older, and subsequently heavier, we did have to ban certain household item for climbing. Like the bookcase that would fall on top of him, the closet shelves that could no longer hold his weight without pulling out of the wall. Most parents are so afraid their kids will fall, so the “spotting” idea is great. But after kid #2 and #3 I wasn’t available to be there spotting for every climbing adventure. And that is why we have crash pads in the form of pillows or blankets. I grab a pillow and thrown it down behind whomever is climbing whatever…I did it just yesterday with my 2 yr old girl who was determined to climb the lounge chairs at the pool. I found myself stressing about the impending fall and bonk of head on the concrete. So I threw down a few folded pool towels and went back to helping my older son get the water wings on.


  2. sam

    My girls are two. They can climb anything that won’t break under their weight, or tip suddenly and dangerously from under their feet (kids potties, coolers, each other). Basically, I don’t want them to break things, but I want them to explore their physical abilities free from fear of consequences, which makes it my job to catch them. They seem to have developed a sense of safety, they climb anything if I’m there to catch, don’t go worryingly high when I’m not there, and only ascend the bookshelves (attached to the wall) when I put the teddy bears at the top. Also, I try to get them to at least try to downclimb anything they can climb up, and they aren’t allowed to do a victory leap off the top until I’m ready to catch.


    • Erica

      Victory leaps sure are fun with a good spotter though, right? 🙂

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN