I’ve talked about the importance of climbing in ‘Climbing: The Catch-22‘ but this is something I get asked about as well and I always forget about it until I’m asked again. Many parents will ask what the trick is for getting their child to come back down the stairs. Going up is easy to teach because you put something your child wants in front of them and they are going to figure out how to go get it. It provides them with visual motivation. Coming down is not nearly as easy to teach because we want them to go down on their belly and with feet first.
I have found that there is no magic trick for making this happen. The best thing is repetitive practice. On top of the repetitive practice I also find using consistent words such as “on your belly, feet first” helps to imporove carryover for your child. Practicing is easy for you and your child if you have a set of stairs in your house. Just get them to the top and put them on their belly and begin moving their legs down one at a time. Sometimes the result is sliding on their belly until they get the hang of bringing one leg down at a time. When you are manually bringing their legs down really try to take turns with their legs so they are going right, left, right, left. This keeps them balanced on both sides.
Some little tricks that may help to make it easier is to show them a toy and then put it down one to two steps so they get immediate gratification once they reach the toy. Let them play with it for a short period and then move it down again. They will start to realize that they can use this method of mobility to get to what they want. If they try to turn around just remind them of what you want, with whatever phrasing you have chosen.
Another way of reinforcing this pattern of movement is everytime your child goes to get down off of the couch, or other height, instead of picking them up, turn them onto their belly and have them go feet first. Kids are amazingly smart and will start to figure it out with enough repetition, consistency and reinforcement.
If you can get your child to learn this before they are already walking it makes it much easier because they won’t want to try to walk down the stairs. After they have mastered this you can begin practicing walking down the stairs by holding their hand and having them hold onto the railing. I just think its important to teach them a safe and independent way to navigate stairs!