Welcome to the toddler years: a time of wonder, tantrums, and transitions. Lots and lots of transitions: Bottles to sippy cups, diapers to training pants
, and cribs to beds. This is when it all goes down.
What's that? How
, you ask, will your toddler transition from her comfy crib to a big-kid bed? Will she take this step magically on her own, as she did with her first actual step some months back? Well, maybe. But probably not (sorry). Still, parents can make bed time go smoothly—and this expert will tell you how.
Let Sleeping Kids Sleep…In Their Cribs, For Now
"There is no precisely perfect time for making this move, and it is different for every child," says Elizabeth Pantley, a mom of four in Seattle and the author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution
. If your child sleeps well in his crib, Pantley suggests waiting. "If all is well, there's no reason to upset the apple cart!" she says. "The most important key to success in this endeavor is to be patient and allow your child the time to adjust to the change with as much pleasure, and as little trauma, as possible." Most kids move to a bed between their first and third birthdays, so just keep an eye out for clues that your child is ready.
Recognize The Signs Your Child is Ready
Know How to Tell Your Child (If At All)
- The crib is too small: If your child's crib simply doesn't fit him anymore, notes Pantley, that's a good clue that it's time to move up to a bed. "Many experts recommend moving a child out of the crib when he grows to 34 to 36 inches tall," she says, "or when the height of the crib's side rail is to the level of his nipples when he's standing up."
- You've got a little monkey: When your child learns to climb (which can happen earlier or later, depending on the child), the crib will no longer be safe for her. "She could climb out of the crib and hurt herself by falling out," Pantley explains. "The bed is a better choice at this stage."
- Potty training is in session: If your child is potty training, you'll want him to be able to get out of bed to use the potty when he needs to, which isn't possible from a crib. Time for an upgrade!
- Your child asks for a bed: If this happens, "it's the perfect time," Pantley says. "Lucky you!"
You might want to talk with your tot about a move to a Big Girl Bed or Big Boy Bed and how great it will be—but you might not want to bring it up till the day the bed arrives. "Take your child's personality into consideration. How does she normally handle change? How does she take to new adventures, new toys, and new things in the house? Does she respond better to the thrill of surprises, or carefully planned events?" Pantley asks. "Understanding how she approaches life changes will help you decide how to introduce a new bed."
Hit the Books
Need help getting the conversation going? Read books to your child on the topic. Three good ones to try: Big Enough for a Bed
, a Sesame Street book by Apple Jordan and John E. Barrett; My Own Big Bed
by Anna Grossnickle Hines and Mary Watson; and Your Own Big Bed
by Rita Bergstein and Susan Kathleen Hartung.
Make Way for Baby
If your child has a new sibling on the way, and you want to use the crib for the baby, "try to make the change two months or more before the newborn arrives," Pantley says. "You may even want to take down the crib and store it out of sight for a few weeks, or purchase new bedding for the crib so that your older child doesn't feel that 'his' crib is being taken over."
Once you've made the switch, keep an ear on the baby monitor. If you hear your child wandering around her room, or if she comes into your room at night, "explain briefly that she needs to stay in bed, and take her back," Pantley says. "If you are very consistent with this return process, your child will quickly learn that she needs to stay in bed once the good-nights are completed." Keeping her sleep environment consistent through the transition will also help; be sure to put her new bed exactly where the crib used to be. The same goes for the bedtime routine— consistency is key.
Try, Try Again
"Sleep is such a volatile issue, and there are so many sleep and bedtime-related problems that parents have to deal with in the early years of a child's life: Avoid an issue if you can," Pantley says. "If you've made the change from crib to bed, and given it a fair effort, but your child suddenly begins to have many more night wakings, doesn't fall asleep easily, or cries for his crib then, if possible, go ahead and let him go back to his familiar source of comfort. This isn't a failure on anyone's part, just a change that your child wasn't quite ready for. Wait a few months and try again."