Easing your child through the transition from sleeping in a crib to a new bed doesn't need to be a nightmare. Child sleep consultant Amy Lage has made a career out of helping families best approach this crucial moment in a toddler's life. If your child cannot stay in a crib safely any longer (for example, your little monkey is making a great escape every night to crawl into bed with you) or is asking for a toddler bed, it might be time for Lage's advice.
Why is the transition from crib to bed so important?
We want to make sure that the entire family is getting as much sleep as possible, and that your children are well-rested. To avoid those middle-of-the-night wake-ups, it's important to set the tone and do it right the first time. It keeps everybody on track.
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Your suggestion of letting a child pick out new sheets or a bed frame is an interesting idea. Do kids find this exciting?
Yes! Children are always a little nervous about the change. This makes them feel in control of the situation, which is so important for toddlers. They are so often grasping for control in their lives.
What sparked your interest in this topic? Did you have trouble transitioning your children?
I have a 2-year-old and a 2-month-old. The older one is actually still in her crib, and will stay until she asks to switch. In the sleep community, we really think it's important to keep children in their crib until they are really ready. I'm a big believer in waiting until 3 if you can.
Why is 3 the magic number?
At 3, you can reason with them. Before that, most kids really can't comprehend guidelines or why it is important to follow directions. Until they can understand and recognize boundaries, it is so much easier to keep them in the crib where they can have the best sleep.
If your child cannot stay in their crib safely or you feel that they are ready for the big move, here are nine tips on what you do— by Amy Lage, Child Sleep Expert and Family Sleep Institute Graduate
- Do some prep work: Get your child involved so they feel in control of the situation and also excited about the new change. If your child is going to stay in their crib converted into a big kid bed, allow them to pick out some new sheets or a new big kid blanket. If they are going to go into a completely new bed, allow your child to be part of picking out the new bed. Pick up a book or two about the transition to help them understand what will happen and to ease any fears. Talk about the transition with them and explain that bedtime will remain the same, they will just be sleeping in new big kid bed.
- Keep your current routine in place: By this time you should have a solid bedtime routine in place. Children count on consistency as it makes them feel safe and helps them to understand what to expect. Keep your pre-bedtime routine as consistent as possible as this will just help things go more smoothly.
- Implement a set of sleep rules for the new bed: Before you make the switch make sure your child understands that they are expected to stay in their bed until the next morning. Expect your child to wander out of their bed the first few nights. Make sure you have a plan in place to deal with this a head of time.
- Make sure their new found freedom doesn't spiral out of control: With all of this excitement, your child will likely try to get out of their bed during the night at some point in the first few days. When this happens, you need to deal with it quickly and consistently. Every time your child gets out of the bed you will immediately take them by the hand and walk them back to the bed. During this time, you will not acknowledge them by talking or making eye contact. You need to remain completely silent. If you talk to them you are reinforcing the reason why they are getting out of bed in the first place -- attention. If there is no communication, the novelty wears off pretty quickly. Our children are quick learners.
- Be firm and consistent: While it is easy to cave at 3 a.m. and allow your little one to crawl into bed with you, be consistent and stick to your plan. With just a few days of absolute consistency your child will understand the rules and stay in their bed.
- Purchase a sleep clock; this is helpful for your child to understand when it is ok to get out of bed in the morning.
- If possible, try to make the transition while your child is in a well-rested state.
- Make sure your child is not over-tired by allowing for an earlier bedtime if necessary.
- Avoid making the switch when there are others changes going on in your toddler's life — a new baby, potty training, a move, etc.