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My daughter, her husband and my 2.3 year old grandson just moved into a new house. There is a stairway that goes straight up, at a 45 degree angle, no turns or landings, for 17 steps. There is a hand rail on one side. Are there any clever ideas for making the stairway safer for the toddler? This is an abnormally high staircase and if he were to fall at the top, he'd be going quite fast at the bottom. Of course they can gate the top and bottom, but at some point the kid is going to be attempting the stairs himself. I wish there was a landing halfway, but there's not; just 12 feet of continuous acceleration.

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  • I can't help thinking that if staircases were invented today they would be banned on health and safety grounds. And that would probably be the Right Thing. – Paul Johnson Jun 3 at 14:36
  • @PaulJohnson No kidding. My son-in-law has had knee surgery and they have a second child on the way. I can't fathom what went through their heads when they saw this house. Herr Opa didn't need any more to worry about. – B. Goddard Jun 3 at 14:38
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"Of course they can gate the top and bottom..."

That's the safest option.

If aesthetics aren't a concern, a second child-hand-width handrail installed at the child's chest level (below the adult-height one) is an option. We did this with our stairways.

Carpeting the stairs makes them less slippery in stockinged feet.

Above and beyond gating, teaching a child to navigate stairs safely is what most parents do. No playing on the stairs, always one hand on the handrail, etc. There isn't another practical solution. Adults fall down the stairs all the time, and they have a lifetime of experience with stairs.

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We have similar stairs (16 steps, with a 90 degree turn, which spans 4 steps, near the top) and our approach to safely navigating the stairs has been

  1. Put gates on, so the stairs are only used under adult supervision. The adult is always on a lower step than the child, so they can arrest any falls.
  2. Initially, both going up and going down is on all fours (both hands and feet in contact with the stairs and moving only 1 hand or foot at a time) and facing the stairs.
  3. Once our son could reach the hand rail, going up was allowed to be standing up with a hand on the rail.
  4. Once we, as parents, decided the risk of falling was low enough for our comfort, our son was allowed to also go down the stairs standing up and facing outward.

Unfortunately for us, our son was bright enough by 2.3 years to open the gates on the stairs by himself, so the adult supervision of the stairs became harder to enforce and we had to let that go.

The 90 degree turn makes our stairs even more scary, because in that turn there are one or two steps where our son can't reach the handrail and he sometimes takes those steps standing free.

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Putting a soft rug at the bottom might be a good idea too. Obviously a fall is still a bad thing and it won't prevent all injury, but if it doubles the distance that the skull has to stop in, it halves the force (very roughly speaking).

The downside with a stair gate at the bottom is of course that you now have lots more hard edges for the child to hit. Maybe some padding would be in order.

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