Sleep expert Carolina Romanyuk helps ease the nighttime transition from baby to big kid.
There comes a time in your baby's sleep journey when you will say one of these things:
- "My kid hates her crib. She is always trying to get out of it. I have tried everything and nothing works. She ends up sleeping in our bed, and then no one sleeps. "
- "Woo hoo, you just turned 3. Let's celebrate with you becoming a big kid with a big bed. I'm so excited!"
- "Baby # 2 is on the way. Time for a big bed."
Translation: It may be time for you to transition your little one from a crib into a toddler bed.
First, here are two extremely important factors that need to be considered before this switch-a-roo is to take place: maturity and safety.
Maturity. Is your child actually mature enough for the transition? For the last couple of years, she’s been cozy in her safe crib and has a solid sleep foundation. A big bed can seem like a massive ocean. Some children that transition too early without having a solid sleep foundation can result in cuddling up in one corner for sometime because of the abundance of space. Otherwise, she may experience sleep disruptions and difficult bedtimes with tears and tantrums. For some, it can take several weeks into the transition to realize, "Well now, I'm actually supposed to sleep in this massive thing. They aren't giving me my crib back. That sucks! Ok I'm gonna cry now because I hate this change. Was fun at first, but now it sucks!"
Safety. A 20-month-old is just now learning to follow simple instructions while simultaneously testing out rules and limits. They know your exact buttons to push. They are curious about the world and are extremely eager to explore. Now you add to the mix complete nighttime freedom--uh oh! What stops a small child from getting out of bed and roaming around in the dark? At 2-years-old, they are explorers, adventures, detectives and scientists. They can roam around their room at night; pull out drawers; climb on the changing table; eat the diaper cream--just making sure you’re paying attention. It becomes a time of potentially hazardous curiosity.
Even though I always recommend keeping a young toddler in her crib for as long as you can (preferably as close to 3-years-old as possible), she might have another agenda. You can try to stop her (turn the crib around or lower the mattress to make climbing out harder; remove large objects from the crib that could serve as a launch pad; or watching your monitor like a hawk to make sure you’re there with a firm "NO!" during any escape attempt). But when it’s actually time to make the switch, you need to know how to do it.
So when's the right time? When your child is able to communicate verbally that she wants a big bed and is ready, usually around 2.5 to 3 years of age. (Side Note: 2.5 to 3 years is highly recommended as the appropriate age for going from crib to bed. But no one knows your child better than you. So listen to her, and if she asks for it and is between 2 and 2.5 with a solid sleep foundation intact, then go with the signals...of course, keeping safety in mind.)
As everything in parenthood-land, a plan of action is needed. Here are 4 simple steps on transitioning:
1. Decide on the type of bed. You may want a toddler bed which is low to the ground and can fit the crib mattress inside; it's good till about 4 -5 years old. Otherwise, go right to a twin bed, which is higher off the ground and a twin mattress is needed. This is good till high school. (Side note: involve your child in the process of choosing her own bed, from choosing the color to picking out her sheets and pillow.)
2. Safety-fy the room. Make sure all drawers are secured and locked, including the changing table and closet. All electric sockets should be closed off. You may want to install bed rails to help if your child moves around a lot at night.
3. Hold a Family Meeting. This is super crucial to continuing with your solid foundation by establishing sleep rules so she can understand what is expected from her, why she is being transitioned and hear about the new big bed rules.
4. Have a Plan B. I always advise to have a Plan B when reality hits for your toddler after the transition. That moment when her toy falls to the ground, she gets out of bed to pick it up, and eureka! She realizes she can get out of bed by herself, and then the fun begins. A Plan B is needed if these setbacks occur, even way after the transition. Always stay consistent.
The transition from crib to big bed is huge and should be done at the moment your child is mature enough. As long as you listen to your child, and take in consideration her maturity level and safety, you'll be golden. Even if once in a big bed, she starts talking about her crib and missing it, listen and place her back into the crib. That's not going backwards or a regression, it's listening to your child.
Here is to a healthy future and a good night’s sleep.