We’ve been having an ongoing issue with Tom and stairs. He started off so well. At around 10 months, when he had been crawling for a couple of months, he crawled over to the stairs up to our flat after we got back from nursery one day and climbed all the way to the top, with me following anxiously behind. A month or so later, we were staying at my in-laws where there are loads of rooms with a step or two down into them. We spent the weekend teaching Tom to turn round and go down the steps backwards. By the end of the weekend he had it down, and was able to repeat the trick to go down the whole staircase in our flat (though we kept the stair-gate closed to stop any unsupervised stair explorations). Even once he could walk he was really good about stopping, getting down and going down backwards.
Then…he had a few rough weeks with colds and teething. And we are always in such a hurry when we go to nursery in the mornings. Tom started crying when I tried to get him to go down (or up) the stairs by himself and I kept giving in and carrying him. It got to the point that he didn’t even try to attempt them himself and would just step into my arms (with me a couple of steps lower than him) and be carried down.
A wake up call came before Christmas, when we were staying with a friend. She has a couple of steps down from her kitchen into her dining area, all of which is tiled. Tom had been great all weekend about not going near the steps. But I was on my own with him early on Sunday morning and he had broken a Christmas decoration down in the dining area. So I moved him into the main kitchen to stop him hurting himself on the broken pieces, grabbed a dustpan, and went down to clean it up. I was nowhere near the steps. Since Tom hadn’t come near the edge for the past two days unless an adult was there to carry him down, I assumed he would stay at the top.
I was wrong.
He just stepped straight off. No hesitation. I had never seen him be so careless – he is usually really aware of drops and edges and handles them really sensibly (he was quite upset about not being allowed to play with the Christmas decorations anymore, which I guess caused the lapse in judgement).
Luckily he wasn’t badly hurt, though the shock was enough to have him in tears. But Mr Techno and I were properly shaken. We agreed then and there that we would get stricter about Tom going down stairs by himself, or would pick him up well before we got to the stairs if we were in a hurry, not at the top step.
We’ve been pretty good about sticking to it since then. But Tom has still been very reluctant to make his own way down. He’s fine if we help him turn round and get down onto the first step, but has been struggling to make that first move.
Last week, we were on our way out to play. I had gone down a couple of steps and was trying to persuade Tom to ‘get down and go down backwards’. He was dithering at the top – he’d come to the edge, lift his arms out to me, back off, get down on all fours, get half way round, stop, get back up again, then come back to the edge. Usually, I would have picked him up, turned him round, and helped him down that first step. But this time I decided to wait and see what he would do. I was ready to catch him if he miscalculated, and we had plenty of time for him to work it out.
He didn’t do what I thought he would. No getting down on all fours first and then reversing down. Instead, he reached out, grabbed the rail, and stepped onto the first step. It took him a couple of tries to get the distance right and my heart was in my mouth the whole time. It took everything I have not to interfere. But I managed it. And so did he. On the third attempt he managed to use the rail to steady himself enough to lower his foot onto the first step. Then he half-turned to bring the other one down, smiled at me…and turned the rest of the way round to continue backwards down the stairs.
Yet more proof that I should have more trust in my child. He may not do things the way I want him too. But he can do them. I just need to get out of his way and let him figure it out for himself. And be ready to catch him if he gets it wrong.