Encouraging Independence: Going Down the Stairs

Stairs are recurring parts of my nightmares. I am terrified of my children falling down the stairs…especially the half of our flight of stairs that isn’t carpeted. But much to my dismay (and a racing heartbeat), stairs are an inevitable part of life and every child must learn how to walk up and down them.

We taught both boys to slide down the stairs on their tummies about the time that they could start walking. We’ve found this to be a pretty safe way of navigating down the stairs for the little ones. Likewise, going up the stairs..we just encouraged them to crawl.

At around age 2.5, Big Brother started attempting to walk down the stairs holding onto the railing. Little Brother, however, insists on doing it by himself now, at the age of 21 months. I carefully stand an arms length away and let him exert his independence while he’s under my watchful eye. It takes us about 4 times as long to get down the stairs this way, but at least he’s learning, right?

Notice he’s clutching his ribbon blanket…he will not take a nap without it!


I honestly don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next 5 years with these boys without having a heart attack. We’ve already had a bloody nose and a bloody lip this week with spills they’ve taken in the house!


How do you teach your child to go up and down the stairs (without having a heart attack)???


  1. With my two, the key was getting over my fear. They could navigate the stairs just fine. I had to get over my fears quickly with my oldest. She was not yet 2 and I was pregnant with her sister and experiencing pre-term labor. Needless to say, I could not carry her down the stairs. It was completely necessary for her to learn (and for me to let go of my fear). She did, quickly and easily. My youngest has always been very good with her gross motor skills so she learned the stairs easily (and I had a lot less stair anxiety with her). I’ve also learned that stairways are much safer for kids when they know how to navigate them!

  2. I guess I’m like Terri. . . I was always too pregnant with the next baby to be able to carry them! I’m pretty sure my second one was going up and down alone at about 17 months or so! I guess after the first one fell and tumbled almost all the way down and was totally fine, I started worrying less!!

  3. I have to admit that when we were house shopping, one of the features I wanted (and got) was a split staircase, so they wouldn’t have as long to fall. Our stairs are carpeted, too, so all in all, our stairs look a lot less scary than yours!

    I agree with Terri, I started to encourage my oldest in independence a lot more when I got pregnant!

    I don’t really have any tips; I just let my kids figure it out, giving them support when they wanted it and rescuing them when they got “stuck” halfway up.

  4. Our then 2 yo fell on our uncarpeted stairs and broke her collarbone. I am still nervous when she is on the stairs, especially as she tends to be a dreamer.

  5. Oh boy, that’s our story! Our 21 month old son is too little to hold on to the railing, so I walk in front of him and let him grab my arm. But for a couple of weeks now, he insists of going down without me carrying him.
    Our daughter, almost 5, was afraid of going down alone. I carried her down far into my pregnancy, the last couple of months on my back, so it was the complete opposite!
    Even on the playground they are opposites. Our son has been climbing the stairs of the slider by himself AND going down alone too for several months now. Other parents cringe when they see him, and look at me as if they want to say: BE CAREFUL, why don’t you grab him?? I’m used to that now ;) he never falls down those steps.

  6. Monkey is the exact same age, and while he won’t walk downstairs on his own he loves to try to go up stairs. He gets tired after trying to walk up one or two steps though and resorts to crawling or holding our hand(finger). The other morning he opened the bedroom door, crawled down stairs on his belly, and starting yelling at us from down there…DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HE COULD OPEN A DOOR YET AGGGGGGG!!!!!

  7. That’s exactly what I do too. We start at about the age they can start climbing the stairs, which is usually a bit before walking age-about 10 months maybe? And we put them on their bellies and pull their legs down behind them, one at a time until they figure it out on their own. It does make me nervous though. My 16 month old likes to scoot down on his butt which makes me SO nervous. Thankfully we have carpeted stairs, but I am pretty sure all of my kids have fallen at one point or another. We do have baby gates, but it is so important to teach them just in case a gate gets accidentally left open.

    I have three boys so I totally understand how you feel. Just a few weeks ago my oldest son (6) decided it would be a good idea to do a front flip off of our couch head first into the coffee table. That was scary. He knocked his top two teeth loose and there was blood everywhere. He ended up losing one of his teeth about a week later but the other one tightened back up. Controlled chaos is the name of the game in our house!

  8. Thank you for this post! It’s so nice to know that I’m not the only one who has to pray through this scenario on a daily (multiple times a day) basis.

  9. Stairs TERRIFY me and my almost three year old has started to jump off of them. He makes me so nervous. My daughter is almost nine months and is already trying to crawl up them. The baby gate is up and when she’s ready we’ll start to teach her to crawl up them and go down on her butt. That worked with our son, hopefully it will work with her.

  10. Same thing happened with my kids. 1st child went down on his belly for the longest time, no problem. Second child just turned 2 and is an expert in walking down the stairs like big girl all by herself. 2nd kids are trouble I tell ya! :-)

  11. I understand your fears of your children falling down the stairs. As long as they know how to hold the banister they should be ok. If you havn’t got carpet on your staircase make sure they wear shoes or go barefoot (You can slippers now with grippy stuff on the bottem so their feet dont get cold).

  12. My goodness moms!! Let the kids learn!!! Kids should be doing the stairs with ease by the time they turn 2 if you are not hovering over them! They might fall! They will recover! Let them become independent! Its natural for them to learn on their own! All my kids fell, and they got up and lived to tell about it, honest! My grandbabies learned to master stairs by 16-18 months because my daughter did not hover! They have fallen, they have picked themselves up! My husbands daughter-in-law hovers over her kids like a hawk. Her daughter is 29 months and looks at the stairs with terror in her eyes! both she and her mom are basket cases and incapable of doing anything on their own! Moms…back off!!!
    With love, Granny!

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