It's time for your little one to try a big kid bed ... or is it you who's ready to make the switch? Here are some readiness signs to look for and solid, down-to-earth advice on making the transition as smooth as possible.
Dr. Jodi A. Mindell, MD, a sleep specialist and author, recommends making the switch when it's the child—not the parent—who's ready for it. "I'm surprised by the number of parents who want to rush this developmental stage," explains the author of Sleeping Through the Night, "Keep in mind that the rails of the crib are all the child knows—it's not only comfortable, but also very comforting to him or her." Essentially, very young children don't have the cognitive capability to understand the imaginary boundaries at their bedsides.
Timing Is Everything
Timing the move is tricky, because there really is no set time to make the switch. Most children tend to switch into a bed between 18 months and three years of age, although you're better off keeping it closer to the three-year mark. After all, there's no harm in waiting, but there are a number of sleep issues that can develop when a child is moved too early.
"The older the child, the more likely he or she is to take to the new sleeping situation," says Dr. Mindell. Ultimately, you've got to let your youngster be your guide. If he asks to move to a bed or shows signs of physically growing out of a crib, it's probably time. Another sign he's ready: if he sleeps well in a bed elsewhere, such as his grandparents' house or daycare.
Parents may move their child to a bed to facilitate potty training or just because it seems like it's time, but the most common reason for a child to bid the crib farewell is the birth of a sibling. In cases like this, it's a good idea to make the switch either several weeks before the birth of the new baby or several weeks after, while the infant is in a bassinet, leaving the older sibling time to adjust to the new baby.
Another typical reason children get moved to a bed is that their parents are concerned for their safety. Toddlers climbing or jumping from cribs may call for intervention, but don't expect the move to a bed to automatically solve the safety concern. Sure, moving means he won't be falling from the crib, but you'll also have lost the control of containing him during the night (then, he can get out and about without your knowing it). If your little one is climbing but you sense that he's not quite ready for a move to a bed, Dr. Mindell recommends using a crib tent to keep him in, or removing (or lowering) the side rail.