This week we celebrate National Sky Scraper Day. My mind immediately went to all of those stairs that you would have to climb to get to the top of a sky scraper. Can you even imagine? Then I thought about teaching a child to climb stairs.

Have you been through this yet? When you first had children did you think that you would actually have to teach them to climb stairs before they were walking? How and when do you teach them if you don’t even have stairs in your house? Don’t worry, I’m here for you! Today let’s dive in to how to teach your child to climb stairs.

When does this start?

If you ask 5 different parents you’ll likely get 5 different answers on when their child began to go near the stairs. Basically, your child’s ability to navigate stairs is all built upon the development of their strength, balance and coordination. So, you’re not likely to see your child approach a stair until they’re at least 8 months old.

Now I am saying 8 months because this is within the typical range of when a child will begin to crawl (or ‘creep’ if you want to use the technical term). As a baby moves into their 9th and 10th month and has been crawling for a bit, they are likely feeling a little more comfortable in their abilities. They can crawl on a flat surface and sometime over an obstacle, so why not tackle the stair?

Safety First

First and foremost I want you to understand that throughout this blog I am in no way saying that if you have stairs in your house you should leave them open to your child at all times. I am not. If you have stairs and cannot be with your child at all times, then go get some gates to put up and secure your house. The last thing that I want is a young child falling down the stairs.

Safety is always my number 1 priority; but safety works 2 ways. First through protecting and then through teaching. Those gates should always be up unless you are walking up or down the stairs, or you are sitting with your child as they climb up and down the stairs. However, it is just as important to teach your child how to safely navigate stairs when they are ready.

Encourage with support

You may instantly feel like saying ‘no’ when your child approaches a step. But, this skill is going to take practice and is one that needs to be learned at some point, so why not begin when your child starts to show an interest.  Rather than saying no and moving them away from the stair, try sitting on the step with them and supporting them through the process.

Put a toy on the bottom step and encourage your child to go get it. Kneel or sit behind them so that you are there to support them from behind. They will most likely use a reciprocal crawling motion (left hand then right, left knee then right or right then left) to get up. If you’re nervous, gently hover your hands over their waist area so that you can catch them if they fall. If they look like they’re going to fall, it’s ok because you are right there and they are only on the bottom step.

When they reach that toy, go ahead and celebrate! They made it up a step. Next time put that toy on the 2nd step to encourage them to go a little further.

What goes up must come down

One of the most important things to teach your child is how to safely come down the stairs. In my house we say tushie first whenever a child is climbing down something, navigating their way off of a piece of furniture or coming down a step. We are always attempting to avoid the ‘falling head first’ catastrophe.

Encourage your child to be on their stomach, feet pointed down the stairs. Then they can either slide down or eventually crawl down backward. They will likely turn to look where they are going, which is fine as long as they are still positioned feet down. It’s when your child turns their body around, or begins to go down head first that you want to ‘help’ them fixt their body back to the tushie first position.

Always encourage both directions

Most children love climbing up the stairs. They feel accomplished when they do it and smile and celebrate every time, sitting on that top step looking elated. Its important to always encourage them to then come back down the stairs. Allowing them to get to the top and then picking them up to walk back down stairs is really only teaching them half of the activity.

When you teach a child to safely navigate their way down the stairs, you are not only helping them meet significant developmental milestones, but you are also saving yourself some gray hairs. Eventually your child will become just as proud of themselves for getting down the stairs as they are in climbing up.

The transition to stepping

As your child moves into toddlerhood and begins walking, stairs become a whole different accomplishment. However, please know that even as they are becoming skilled walkers, many children continue to crawl up and down stairs rather than take those steps to walk up a stair.

Walking up stairs takes an enormous amount of leg strength that may not likely develop until your child is around 18-24 months. And when they start walking up stairs, know that is it going to be a slow process that will talk time. They will hold your hand and step up, one step at a time, likely using you as a main source of support.

Again, even when they start walking up stairs they will still crawl down on all fours. T is very funny with stairs…sometimes he starts his tushie first excursion a good 5 feet before the actual stair. You’ll see him get down on his belly and scoot backward until he reaches the stair, which he will then slowly scoot down.

Exposure plays a role

The more your child is exposed to stairs, the more comfortable they will become navigating them. If you don’t have stairs, that’s ok. You can practice with a step stool at home when they are washing their hands or brushing their teeth. Encourage safe navigation down with climbing off of furniture. Maybe practice at the park on the climbing equipment. You can even practice on the curb when you’re walking outside. True the curb is not the cleanest choice, but it will work if you don’t have any other options.

Always supervise your child when they are on steps, even when they begin to walk up and down rather than crawl. Remember that it is easier to learn to go up then it is to go down…and going down is usually when the falls can and will happen. 😊