Although we have not personally done this yet, it’s a transition we will be making in the future and it’s one that many families fear or have many questions about! So here’s what I want you to know about the crib to bed transition.
First and foremost, do what you can to wait until your child is three. Even for the most verbal two year olds, the newfound freedoms that come with a big kid bed are hard to understand, and we need to make sure our kids fully grasp the expectations that come with this new territory. Not to mention their ever-developing impulse control! I’ve had many families come to me because their child was a great sleeper until transitioning out of the crib and it all went downhill from there, and it’s often because the transition happened to soon (yes, I’ve asked some parents to put their child back in the crib when we worked together!).
Can you wait longer than three? YES! In fact, that’s our plan. Olivia will be three this August and is hyper aware of things that may be the least bit scary or dangerous, so have no concerns of her even considering climbing out of her crib. And she just transitioned out of a pack ‘n play a few months ago (because small space living) and has plenty of space to grow in the crib, so we will happily keep her in it for a long time.
Another “milestone” I suggest waiting on before transitioning to a big bed is dropping the final nap. Naps can be a tricky part of the sleep puzzle as is, and I’ve heard of families who have transitioned to a bed while their child still needed a nap every day, but the transition made the nap disappear or become a daily fight. And we all know that sleep begets sleep, so missing a much needed afternoon nap every day will certainly impact night time sleep.
Making the Transition
When you do make the transition, it will be important to establish rules around bedtime and talk about them often! It can be something so simple as: 1) Lay down 2) Be quiet 3) Stay in bed until [your clock turns blue, your clocks says 7, etc.]. When I work with families, I actually have the parents print the rules, let their child color them, and then together they decide where to hang them in the child’s room. And like any rules, these need to be reinforced! If your child gets out of bed that first week, make sure you always walk her back to bed to enforce the rules. After about a week of grace, if your child is still getting out of bed, you will need to instill some sort of consequence for getting out of bed, and you can also decide on some sort of reward for staying in bed. As soon as you start opening up the possibility of a parent sitting in the room or by the door until she falls asleep, or her climbing into bed with you or sleeping on your floor “just this once,” those bedtime boundaries and expectations have been stretched and some battles will likely begin. (Note: when introducing the rules, do not add, “Don’t get out of bed.” We want to frame the rules positively, telling the child what to do rather than what not to do. We also don’t want to plant the idea that getting out of bed is even an option!)
If your child is nervous about the new bed, like I anticipate Olivia being, we of course want to honor those fears and help our child be as comfortable as possible. Similarly to when we sleep in a new place and our daughter is nervous, we tell her that if she’s laying down and quiet (bedtime rules!) we will come check on her. This gives her the space and time she needs to slip into sleep confidently and peacefully, and it ensures that we will not start a new habit of sitting with her until she’s asleep. She also knows where we will be when she’s sleeping and that we can see her on the monitor. And you know what? We’ve rarely had to check on her in those instances, because she’s calm and asleep before it’s necessary!
Final Tips and Thoughts
- Go right for the twin or full-sized bed rather than a “toddler bed.” One, you’ll have to get your child a bigger bed down the road anyway, so why not now? More importantly, the toddler bed is either your child’s crib, simply converted, or it looks very similar to your child’s crib; if your child has been a crib climber, this will be all the more inviting (and easy!) to jump out of.
- If your child moves a lot in her sleep, I suggest putting the bed against a wall and a temporary rail on the other side. If she doesn’t move much, consider something simple, like a pool noodle under the fitted sheet, to have a physical reminder of where the bed ends.
- If you haven’t introduced a toddler clock yet, preparing for this transition is a great time to do so! It will help reinforce expectations of when it’s okay to get out of bed.
- If you read with your child during the bedtime routine and have been reading in a rocking chair or bean bag, move that reading time to the child’s bed! Then when it’s time for lights out, your child is already comfortably in bed and there’s one less transition to remind her that getting out of bed is an option.
- Some kids seem to have a “honeymoon” period for several weeks, or even months, after making this transition. If that’s your child, enjoy! If or when your child starts to test the boundaries, make sure you’re ready with a plan.