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We have 14-month twins who are just starting to learn to walk. Our house is a split level townhouse with three short flights of stairs. We have several gates to keep them safe. They're pretty competent at climbing up steps when supervised, but getting down them is a huge worry.

Obviously, we don't want to let them loose on the stairs until we are certain they will be safe. How can we help them learn to climb and descend stairs on their own? What are the signals that they are ready to be alone on the stairs without too much danger?

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3 Answers 3

At 14 months, most kids can only crawl on the stairs. They will learn walking up much sooner than walking down.

What we do/did is to teach the toddler to crawl down with the feet first and belly down - just like you'd climb up, only in reverse. The same technique works for getting off the couch or bed!

Toddlers might want to face forward but that direction is more difficult. If you can train them to crawl in reverse they'll be safe until they become better at walking in general.

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+1 We did the same and now our two-year-old is fairly good at going up and down stairs normally, with the help of a handrail. –  called2voyage Mar 26 at 16:27
    
Yes: "Bum first" needs to be the motto. –  Dave Clarke Mar 26 at 21:37
    
Not just more difficult but substantially more dangerous! Facing down and leaning a little too far forward can lead to a huge spill. Facing forward the worst that can happen is a slip down a step. –  mhlester Mar 26 at 22:18
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Stairs were a hard thing on our end too. Your twins are still pretty young. You have to take in account of how long they've been walking. I wouldn't put a beginner skier on a double black diamond until I was sure they wouldn't hit a tree.

Our approach was to continually hold our toddler's hand while we walked down, insisting that she hold the rail. If she tripped, she wasn't ready so we watched until there were 0 errors in her step for an unset number of times (you'll know when they are comfortable).

It also helped to, for lack of a better term, "actively walk" down the steps. We would keep her engaged on the task at hand, usually by getting her to count the stairs with us. It taught her counting and focus all at the same time.

You'll know when they are ready. They will look comfortable traversing the stairs and may even pull away from you to do it on their own.

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This definitely depends on the kid. My youngest can go up and down stairs with no problem, and he has been able to since 11 months. He learned how to go down stairs (backwards as otherwise noted here) very quickly - over christmas at Grandma's house, who has a single step up to the raised dining room. Nice short drop to practice on, he went up and down that repeatedly. We still have the gate up and accompany him up the stairs, but he's never fallen. He is part-crawling part-walking up the stairs (he's been walking for a month or so).

My oldest took longer to figure out going down, but he had it down by 15-16 months. We moved into a house with stairs at around this point. We gated the top, but not the bottom; he seemed to have a good handle of things. It also helped that we have a short landing with 2 stairs, then 9 stairs, then 3 stairs, at right angles, so there's never a long distance to fall.

Around 21 months, he had his only fall so far of more than just into the stairs, falling down about 4-5 stairs as a result of getting a bit too excited. He wasn't seriously hurt, just cried for a minute or two and then wanted to go back up. Stairs, fortunately, aren't all that dangerous in most circumstances to kids; they're not falling far enough due to their height to have major injuries. Not to say you don't need to be careful, but it's not the horrible demon a lot of people see it as; letting your kids have their head once in a while isn't likely to cause serious injury, as long as they know to be safe (and he definitely does, now). From our point of view, it was safer to let him practice on relatively safe stairs at home and risk a fall or two than to worry that he might run off while out somewhere and have a more serious fall on stairs that are unfamiliar and perhaps much longer, or concrete, or something else.

My advice is to let them practice on the stairs to their hearts' content. Make sure they practice going down backwards, but in general let them have controlled access to the stairs as much as you can until they are totally comfortable with them - and by controlled I don't mean handholding, I mean standing a few stairs down from them but otherwise giving them their head. This is the first of many things that you have to let them do to some extent even when there is some risk - in the next few months, if they're like my oldest, they'll be wanting to climb all over the park, and perhaps even the "big kids'" play equipment, which is clearly far superior to the little kids'. That will be much scarier than this, but it's all a part of growing up - learning to make mistakes while they don't cost you too much.

In terms of learning to descend, my youngest's method was pretty good for learning if you have it - a one or two stair descent that you can leave ungated. We left our bottom landing (2 stairs) ungated plus grandma's dining room, and between the two he learned on his own. If not, then the method we used with our oldest should work; take them to some stairs that you feel comfortable with, let them go up with you behind them, but instead of carrying them down, tell them they have to go down on their 'own'. Then, if they try to descent forwards, turn them around (so they reverse-crawl down the stairs). Keep turning them around until they figure it out. It might take a while - it took a few weeks with my oldest - but eventually they'll figure it out. The reward of getting to go back up the stairs is a pretty significant reward, after all.

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