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Transitioning from Crib to Toddler Bed

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siblings playing under blankets - Learn Eat Sleep

Baby milestones- we love them. We instagram them. We document them, and we absolutely can’t wait for the world to know how amazing our baby is. So, let’s take this moment to review my little man’s skill sheet, shall we?

Walking- 1 year and 1 week.

Talking- More than 15 words by one.

Alphabet…knew all the letters at 18 months

Sleeping through the night- 6 months.

Potty trained- 2.4 months (and in 3 days! Read the blog post here)

Moved to big boy bed- 3 years old.

Okay, what? Moved to a big boy bed at 3 years old? You read that right. I know we’re always in a rush to get our babies moving on to mastering the next big milestone, but let me be the one to tell you that moving to a toddler bed shouldn’t be one of them. That is, until they’re actually ready and let me tell you why. For toddlers, the new found independence of getting in and out of bed on her own will lead to little unwanted visitors to mom’s and dad’s room in the middle of the night.

The reality is that children, before the age of at least 2.5, really don’t have the ability to control the urge of getting out of bed to hang out where it’s warm and cozy. They just don’t have the cognitive ability to understand rules, boundaries, and they have a strong urge to follow what their little hearts desire- snuggling up next to mom, even if it means mom ends up with an elbow pressed up against her cheek and kicks to her belly throughout the night. Trust me, I’ve hardly ever worked with a parent that’s told me that they wish they would have moved their toddler to a big kid bed earlier.

I also want to note that the only real reason why you would transition your toddler out of the crib before 3 is if they have superhero climbing skills and are able to climb out of the crib. In this case, before you transition them out, try to remove the bottom portion of the crib and place the mattress directly on the floor. This will buy you a few more months and if she can climb up from this too, well, I hate to say it but even a sleep consultant doesn’t have any more tips for this phase other than…more wine?

So, now that we’ve agreed to transition your little one to a toddler bed after she has turned 3, let’s talk about how to make this transition as smooth as possible.

  1. Prepare, but don’t scare.

You’re going to want to fill your little one in on what’s happening. Explain to them that they’re going to be making the move into the new bed, set a date, and let them know when the switch is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do it with a positive spin.

However, there’s also a piece to this to keep in mind. On the one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the switch, but at the same time, you don’t want to make a huge production out of it. Turning the whole thing into a monumental occasion puts a lot of pressure on your child and is likely to stress them out a bit.

  1. Have little one pick out his own bed

Giving your child some input into which bed he wants, what sheets he likes, what pillows feel the most comfortable, will obviously ensure that he gets something he likes, but will also help her feel a sense of ownership over his new bed, which can work wonders in easing the transition.

If you’re really adventurous, you can even let your little one help you put the new bed together. However, if you’re anything like I am, you pick the bed for your little one and make a big deal about how amazing it is. (That mom, I know)

  1. Keep the room the same layout.

So now that it’s put together and the sheets are on, you’ll want to keep the bed in the same place the crib used to be. In fact, you’ll want to keep just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big change, so try not to make any unnecessary additional changes or additions to the room. This also wouldn’t be a good time to create a solar system with glow-in-the-dark stars above her bed since it could create a stimulating and distracting environment.

  1. Keep her day as simple as possible.

This goes double for the schedule on the night of the big event. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night, don’t change the routine, don’t switch up bedtime, don’t try to give her a new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.

Again, you don’t need to make a production out of it. Tell her you’re proud of her, but try to avoid statements like, “What a big girl you are now!” Toddlers are typically in a constant confusing state of uncertainty about whether or not they want to do this whole “growing up” thing, and we want to keep things as low-key as we can.

  1. Set clear sleep expectations.

I know, I know. Only a sleep consultant, who’s also an educator would tell you that you need sleep rules. But believe me, children are more comfortable with knowing what their parents expect of them. This step doesn’t have to be formal, but just reviewing a few simple rules before going to bed can help to enforce them. After all, how would children know what we expect of them if we didn’t directly communicate it to them? You can start with one simple rule like laying in bed quietly, and then adding more rules for staying in bed throughout the night until the Okay-to-Wake clock says its okay to get up.

  1. Take a little lovey to bed

If your toddler has a little lovey or small soft comfort item that she has been using for sleep, this would be a good item to transition to the toddler bed because it offers security and helps little one feel safe. If she does not already have an item, this would be a good time to take her to the store to grab one small item that she will be using as a lovey for sleep.

This lovey will also come into play when she has difficulty following sleep rules. More to come on this in a bit.

She’s in Bed, Now what…

So now that your toddler’s been put to bed and the light’s been turned out, there are a few different scenarios that can play out.

  • Scenario 1 – They adapt immediately to their new bed and they don’t test the rules whatsoever. In this case, this would be a good time to pop open that champagne you’ve been waiting for . You are among the very lucky few who experience this.
  • Scenario 2 – Your little one seems to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, starts leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for mom to come back in several times a night.
  • Scenario 3 – Your toddler starts doing all of those things the very first night.

The solution to the last two of these situations is the same. Offer a warning when your toddler demonstrates the unwanted behavior, tell them what the consequence is going to be if they do it again, and then follow up on that consequence if and when they repeat it.

Chances are that you’ve already discovered a consequence that works on your toddler, and I strongly suggest you keep that it place. One that works well also is letting your toddler know that you will have to wait outside the door and hold on to her lovey until she is cooperative. This almost always gets her to go right back to bed.

Final Thoughts…

One final thought to keep in mind… As much as we’re trying to keep this transition as stress-free and smooth as we can, remember this: You are the boss. It’s almost a mathematical guarantee that your little one is going to test you a bit about this change. She’ll probably leave her room a lot, she’ll call for you to come in, ask for a glass of water, and more than anything, say that she wants to go back to sleeping in her crib.

It’s crucial that you hold your ground every step of the way here, especially during the first few weeks. If you start bending the rules and allowing her to climb into bed with you, or letting her get back into the crib, this process is going to go on for months.

So harden your will, maintain an air of calm authority, and enforce the rules firmly and consistently. It may make you feel like a bit of a bossy mama at times, but it will get your little one sleeping peacefully in her new bed a whole lot sooner.

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about anet

My name is Anet and I am a certified Sleep Sense™ sleep consultant located in Los Angeles. I help parents worldwide with their little one’s sleep challenges and I want to help you! With two little ones of my own, I understand the sleep challenges that arise at all ages. Let’s schedule a time to talk to help you and your little one start sleeping again!

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