Toddlers grow fast. Before you know it, your child is speaking in sentences, learning to run and jump and building teetering block towers (only to knock them down again). One of the biggest milestones is also the most worrisome: the transition from a crib to a “big kid” bed. Parents worry that their toddler, freed from the confines of a crib, will wander the house at night or bounce out of bed at the crack of dawn. “We were worried about lots of up-and-down traffic at night and in the morning,” confesses Cheryl Oliver, mom to 14-year-old Rianne and 5-year-old Gabriella.
But the toddler-bed transition doesn’t have to be terrible. In fact, it can be downright fun. “When Jack was two, we transitioned him to his own ‘big boy’ bed, and I couldn't have asked for a better experience,” says Lindsay Fisher, mom to four-year-old Jack and one-year-old Will. “He slept through the night and was so proud of himself in the morning.”
Smooth the way for a great toddler-bed transition with these tips.
When parents are anxious about the transition to a toddler bed, they can unwittingly pass on their anxiety to their child, says psychologist and mom Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Do your best not to transmit your nerves to your tot—talk about the new bed as an exciting new step, not a worrisome obligation.
Climbing out of the crib, potty training, and becoming interested in toddler beds are signs that your child may be ready. And while you don’t want to ditch the crib prematurely, you also don’t want to wait too long, or you may find yourself in a stressful situation where you need to get your child out of the crib in a hurry. When a new baby will need the crib, make the switch at least a month before the birth, to give the older child time to adjust to the change.
Be sure to give them some control over the transition. Allow tots to pick out their new bedding or choose which toys get to come to the new bed. “We asked Jack to be a part of setting up his new big boy room. He picked out his bedding — Thomas the Tank engine, of course — and he got to pick out special pajamas for his first night,” says Fisher.
Help your child prepare for the transition by creating a “big kid bed” countdown. One to two weeks before making the switch, tell your child that he’ll be moving to a special new bed. But don’t set the date too far in advance; a buildup of several weeks could make your child anxious instead of eager.
If your child leaves his new bed in the middle of the night — or if you’re worried that he will — install a baby gate at his bedroom door. When you hear him get up, return him to his bed promptly, every time. Once he realizes that he won’t be rewarded with parental interaction or be able to get out of his room, he’ll be more likely to stay in his bed all night long.
Never use the bed as a place for punishment or time out. It’s better and more effective to reward positive behavior, says Lombardo. Sticker charts, special outings, or a visit to the child’s favorite restaurant are good options.
At naptime, opportunistic toddlers may capitalize on their newfound freedom by refusing to stay in bed. “Often, kids do fine with their new bed at bedtime
— naps present a bigger issue,” says Lombardo. But most two-year-olds still need a daily siesta. Enforce your tot’s nap time by creating a solid, consistent
naptime ritual and keeping the bedroom very dark and quiet during naptime.
Clock Extra Minutes
Keep your early bird in bed a longer with a special clock that tells her when it’s time to start the day. “We bought a special alarm clock with nature sounds just before we converted to a toddler bed,” says Oliver. “She loved waiting for her alarm in the morning and getting up to press the reset button — no troubles with getting out of bed too early!”
Whatever you do, “don’t give in and allow your child to go back to the crib,” says Lombardo. Make this transition an exciting milestone for your little one, and the crib will soon be a thing of the past. On to the next adventure!
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep journalist, columnist and mom. She blogs about sleep and parenting at www.thewellrestedfamily.com