Transitioning From Crib to Big Bed

 In Bedtime, Toddler

When it comes to making the transition from a crib to a big bed, there are two questions that need to be answered. The first is when, and the second is how.

Now, if you’re reading this on my website, chances are that you came here looking for some advice about teaching your little one the skills they need to sleep through the night. And if that’s the case, then the answer to the question of “When” is, quite simply, “Not now.”

There are two reasons why I say this.
It’s better to wait.

The first is because there is absolutely no rush to get your toddler out of their crib and into a bed. I have seen plenty of 3-year olds sleeping happily in a crib. I’ve also never worked with a family that told me, “ I wish we’d transitioned him to a big kid bed earlier.”

There is a theory out there that suggests the longer a child is in a crib, the more attached they grow to it, and the tougher it is for them to make the transition when they finally do. However, that theory is, for lack of a better word, wrong.

One change at a time.

The second reason is that if you’re about to start sleep training, there’s going to be a period of adjustment as your toddler learns to fall asleep independently, and that’s going to take a little getting used to. During this adventure, it’s comforting for your little one to have a familiar place to sleep. Her bedroom, her sheets, her lovey, her crib, everything that can stay the same should stay the same. That is until she’s mastered the skills to fall asleep on her own.

I should add here, just in case you’re considering sleep training, that switching to a big kid bed is going to be a whole lot easier if your little one is already sleeping through the night. A toddler who is well rested and able to fall asleep independently is far less likely to leave their room at night, which is the single biggest issue that parents run into when they move their little ones out of the crib.

Other factors to consider.

Before you make the transition to a big bed, make sure that there aren’t any other big changes going on in your little one’s life at the same time.

Things such as:

  • Potty training
  • You have a new baby arriving within a few months
  • You’ve just moved or are planning to move in the near future
  • Starting preschool
Alright, so your little one is already falling asleep on their own, there are no other big changes going on and your ready to make the transition!
Step number one is preparation.

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 positive energy.

So there’s a bit of tight-wire act to be performed here. 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.

Safety proof.

Chances are that while your little one was safely in their crib every night, you weren’t thinking about safety proofing. Take some time in the weeks leading up to making the transition to evaluate your child’s room. Secure any furniture, remove any possible tripping hazards, secure staircases near your child’s room, cover outlets, and do a general safety check. This way you know your child will be safe should they decide to test the boundaries and leave their bed.

Toddler Clock.

It can be very helpful in the weeks or months leading up to making the change into a big bed to add in a toddler clock to your child’s sleep environment. I recommend the OK to Wake clock for children two years of age and older. Adding a toddler clock into their sleep environment while they’re still in their crib will help to enforce the rules around the clock. Explain how it works to your child and then be sure to adhere to the rules.

Get them involved.

Now that it’s time to actually pick out the new bed, be sure to bring your toddler along. Giving your child some input into which bed she wants, what sheets she likes, what pillows feel the most comfortable, will obviously ensure that she gets something she likes, but will also help her feel a sense of ownership over her 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.

** I do suggest that you think long term when considering what kind of big bed to purchase. Instead of a toddler bed, that will eventually need to be transitioned out of as well, opt for a big bed. A single, twin, double, or queen bed that will suit your kiddo as they grow over the years.

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.

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 alter the routine. Don’t switch up bedtime or try 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 perpetual 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.

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, celebrate heartily. You are among the very lucky minority.

Scenario 2

Your little one seems to adapt immediately. However, 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.

The solution to the latter two of these situations is the same. Offer a warning when your toddler starts to test the boundaries. Tell them what the consequence is going to be if they do it again, and then follow up on that consequence if they continue to test the boundaries.

Chances are that you’ve already discovered a consequence that works with your toddler, and I strongly suggest you keep that it place. Again, we don’t want anything to change except for the bed. Keep doing whatever you’ve been doing up until now in regards to addressing behavior.

In case you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, I find that removing a lovey for a short period of time or closing the door all the way are both pretty functional without putting your toddler into hysterics. Every time the bedtime boundaries are tested, increase the length of time that the door stays closed or the lovey stays out of the bed.

That pretty much sums it up folks. Explain what’s happening, keep things light, set the expectations and enforce the rules. It’s not always going to be easy, but it is pretty straightforward.

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 calm, confident leader. It’s almost a certain that your little one is going to test the boundaries around this change at some point. 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 hold the bedtime boundaries firm and consistent. It may make you feel like a bit of a tyrant at times, but it will get your little one sleeping peacefully in her new bed a whole lot sooner.

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