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Giving your toddler the freedom to walk up and down the stairs is hard, I know. It is so simple to hold their hand and feel the assurance of knowing if they start to fall you are already attached to them and can catch them or help them balance but that’s kind of the problem. You are helping them balance.

A toddlers body is in a rapid stage of growth and development so while toddlers have quick time frames to get good at crawling, walking, running etc, they will also quickly develop a physical and mental habit of needing support when climbing up and down stairs.

The message you send to them when holding one of their hands when crawling up and down stairs is “you need me, you cannot do this yourself, you are not capable and as a result, using their own body to confidently climb up and down becomes a foreign concept.

When you do everything for your child they become dependent on it and become less inspired to do for themselves.

So what do I do?

Excellent question. Teach your toddler how to safely get up and down. If they are confidently walking, show them where the railing is and explain that it is there for them, to use to balance, while walking up and down.

If they insist you hold their hand, lovingly look at them and gently say “Your body is learning how to balance, when I let you climb yourself, your body will get really strong” Then motion towards the wall or railing and say “You can hold here” They will know what to do next. Our bodies are instinctive in action and once they make contact with the railing or wall, the brain knows how to communicate to the body, to brace and steady while moving.

Should I give them space?

Yes. Enough that they can move freely but stay close enough, that if they stumble, you are a second away from helping them. Then steady and re position allowing them to continue on their own.

Supportive comments will go along way to them in this process. “I see you are using your two strong feet to climb and are pulling yourself up with your arms. I see you, you are doing it!

This will increase confidence in their ability and will inspire them to do more things on their own. As well as make them feel close and connected to you, while developing a new skill.

All stairs, all the time?

Sometimes there will be an opportunity to carry your child up or down stairs, as a necessity. Go for it. As long as it isn’t a habit or something they come to expect, you are in good shape. As always, trust your instinct. If it is a long and dangerous stair case by all means, pick them up, but if it is 2 - 4 stairs, let them practice while staying close to them, just in case.

Down the stairs too??

Yup! The human body, even the smallest of them, has ‘precision like’ physical instinct, and is capable of managing even the most challenging of physical obstacles.

When you allow your children to be barefoot 95% they will learn to use their whole foot to balance and this will come in handy when walking down stairs. As gravity does its job in propelling the body downward, the toes, entire foot and ankle will activate to do its job of keeping the body upright, and working fluidly. Our only job in these moments, is to create the space for your child to practice and learn their capability through this experience and be close in case they do stumble.

The body does not want to fall. The sensation of falling is scary and the brain and body will work hard to prevent this. This is a time to watch and marvel at your child’s natural instincts, while they maneuver down the stairs, on their own, and use their unconscious instincts to stay safe They aren’t thinking about what they are doing, they are moving, focused on the end result, longing to reach the bottom, to rejoin you and move on.

This will take some focused practice but after just a few times, your child will have the physical memory and emotional confidence to travel up and down stairs safely.

But I am so nervous, what if they fall?

It is hard to see children fall and even harder knowing you could have prevented it, however, when you are nervous and worried that something MIGHT happen the likely hood of it actually happening it greater. Your child will sense you are worried and will be unable to confidently proceed. Think of any time you have been close to a worried person and trace how you felt in their presence. Do you think you could have confidently done anything without feeling a little worried? Energy is contagious and unless you are a monk, who spends 10 hours a day channeling emotions to bend at your will, you are subject to catching someone else’s energy, and making it your own.

Practice becoming comfortable with the stumbles. Shake them off like “no big deal” while calmly acknowledging what you just saw “I saw that, you stumbled, that can happen when you are learning something new.” Then re focus so your little one witnesses your confidence in them even after a set back. If you get all shaken up, they will think there is something to get shaken up about. They are tracking you, remember? Taking in all your mannerisms and reactions and taking notes. So give them healthy, confident mannerisms to digest as they will one day become their own. There is tremendous value in the stumbles. When the body stumbles or falls it creates an opportunity for the muscles to take notes and learn how to be of better use next time. Muscles do this on their own but they don’t learn by being sedentary. They must move to learn and grow and adapt.

The message you send to them when you insist they climb on their own is “I believe in you, you are strong, capable and can handle this.” Even if a little hard, and/or scary when you let them experience the challenge, you are sending healthy messages of capability and strength. You are saying “I know you can do it” when they pair that message with a physical experience of actually doing it, life long capability messages are rooted for them to use for the rest of their lives. Anyone who has been living life longer than 2 years, knows that having that internal dialogue will come in handy time and time again.


Teacher Sarah

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