Most likely, you have either dreaded or looked forward to this day - it's time to get rid of the crib, and move into a big kid bed! Parents choose to transition their children to a bed at different ages and for different reasons - maybe your neighbor moved her daughter to a bed at 18 months because she needed the crib for a new sibling, but your sister waited until age 3 because there was never really a reason to switch. In our family, we transitioned our twins at 15 months because they were climbing out of the crib, and it just made sense for us. There is no "right" age to transition to a bed - in fact, many cultures do not use cribs (or beds for that matter). However, regardless of your child's age, if you have decided to make the transition, here are some ways to prepare:
- Make a decision and stick to it. Once you have decided to switch to a bed, trust in your decision and don't change your mind! Switching and then switching back is too much change for little kids.
- Prepare your child. This is the time to talk about how beds are cool! Read some books (this one and this one are both good), visit older cousins or friends with big kid beds, and maybe even pick out some cool new bedding items with your child.
- Don't change everything! It's OK to pick out some new bedding, but keep some things consistent. Try to put the new bed in the same place as the crib, keep some items from the crib (such as a blanket), and stick to your bedtime routine. Also, avoid making this transition during other times of change, such as while potty training, moving, or welcoming a new sibling.
- Safety first. If your child is still a young toddler, protect him from rolling out of the bed. You can use bed rails if you have them, but a few rolled up towels, pillows, or a swim noodle placed under the edge of the bed sheet works just as well (and is a lot cheaper). If you want something a little taller, we used this Bed Bug Bumper with our toddler beds.
- Bedtime rules. Talk to your child about the rules for the new bed. For instance, "Beds are for sleeping, not for jumping" and "We stay in our bed all night."
Now that you have prepared, it's time for your child's first night in the new bed! Unfortunately, you may not get a lot of sleep tonight (or tomorrow night...), depending on how well your child adjusts to the new sleeping arrangement. Just try to remember that you are basically teaching him a new skill - how to fall asleep and stay asleep in a bed. Although it doesn't seem like a big deal to us as adults (I mean, we sleep in a bed every night!), it can be a scary change for a toddler. All of a sudden, little Joey is higher off the ground, in a bigger bed, with no sides to protect him. On the flip side, some kids see it as a new found freedom to get up and play all night. So, expect the first few nights to be a bit of a challenge. Here are some strategies that may help:
- Sleep on the floor. At least for the first night, one parent may want to plan to sleep on the floor next to the new bed. This is both for comfort and to correct any unwanted bedtime behaviors (such as jumping on the bed, getting out of bed to play, etc).
- Be boring. Make it clear that it is time for sleep, and not for talking, playing, etc. If your child gets out of bed, simply put him back. Be silent, be boring, be consistent. You don't want to give any attention (even negative attention like reprimanding) for these behaviors because you may inadvertently reinforce them.
- Praise. In the morning, praise your child for sleeping in his big kid bed! (Even if he didn't sleep all night, find something positive to praise!)
- Sit next to the bed. If your child slept through most of the previous night, you should be able to just sit next to his bed until he falls asleep, and then sleep in your own bed again. (If not, no big deal, just sleep on the floor again and move to this step when your child is ready.) For this night, you may need to hold his hand, but just your presence might be comforting enough. (This is a good time to catch up on a book, email, a quiet game, etc.)
- Again, be boring. Give no attention for negative behaviors! If you are sleeping in your bed again, and your child comes to your bed, just silently bring him back to bed. You may need to set up shop in his room again if he continues to get up. It is still a very new skill, so don't be discouraged! Just continue to be silent, boring, and consistent.
- Again, praise. In the morning, give high fives, hugs, and specific words to praise your big kid.
Pretty soon, you should be able to get back to your typical bedtime routine of just kissing your child goodnight without having to stay in the room. If you need to, you may find it helpful to slowly transition out of the room - such as sitting a little further away each night until your little one is falling asleep without you in the room again.
*Look for next week's post about dealing with other common sleep problems!