Parents often ask me how long they should wait before moving their toddler to a “big kid” bed. The short answer to that is to wait as long as possible! I typically recommend waiting until a child is at least 2 ½ year old before making the switch. Waiting until your child is between 3-4 years old is even better.
Sure, moving out of the crib and into a “big kid” bed can be an exciting milestone in your child’s life! It’s a sure sign that your baby is growing up! However, it is best not to rush into it. A child younger than 2 ½ really doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand “big bed” rules like “stay in your bed all night”. More than likely, if you make the switch too soon, you’ll be chasing your toddler around their room and having to put them back in their bed a million times every night…and that’s just a bedtime! A curious toddler taking advantage of their new found freedom can easily become a safety concern as well. Some parents find that they need to gate their child’s door and go to extreme measures in order to safety proof the room so that their little one is not up wandering “free range” around the house or climbing onto furniture or pulling down curtains in their room during the night.
It is best to wait until your child has mastered the skill of putting himself to sleep at bedtime and getting himself back to sleep when he wakes during the night without any help before transitioning him out of the crib. If your child is dependent on you to lay down with them until they are asleep at bedtime, they will likely need you to do the same if they wake up during the night. And if you’ve ever tried to sleep huddled up on the edge of a toddler bed…it’s not too comfy! Or some parents find themselves letting their little one crawl into bed with them because, let’s face it, it’s easier than walking them back to their own bed at 2:00am! Both of these situations are hard habits to break and are often met with protest from your child.
Now, I know some of you may be thinking…” this is all well and fine, but my 15 month old is climbing out of his crib so what do we do now?!” Yes, some toddlers have the skill of turning into a mini-Houdini and are able to climb out of their crib at an early age. Certainly this is a safety concern. However, before you rush out and buy him a “big kid” bed, consider doing the following:
• Make sure to lower the crib mattress as low as it will go which will make it harder to climb out
• Remove large stuffed animals or toys that your child could use to stand on and climb out
• Put your child in a “sleep sack” or a long nightshirt that is sewn or tapered at the bottom so that your child can’t hike a leg up over the crib rail. However, if your child is going over the rail head first, then this option won’t help
*Please note that crib tents have been recalled and are no longer a safe option
Another common reason parents may rush moving their toddler to a “big kid” bed is the arrival of a new sibling. If your toddler is younger than 2 ½, it would be better to borrow or buy a good used crib for the new baby and keep your toddler in their crib a while longer. Having a new baby is exhausting enough…imagine having to wrangle a toddler who won’t stay in her bed too!
If your child is developmentally ready to make the move to a “big kid” bed, here are some tips to make a smooth transition:
• Get him involved-let him pick out new sheets, let him “help” put the new bed together, etc.
• Safety proof the room and use a guardrail so your child won’t fall out of the bed
• Put your child’s new bed in the same spot the crib was in
• Establish clear “big bed” rules or sleep manners. Using a sticker chart/reward system, a wake-up light or sleep clock can be very helpful tools to reinforcing your rules.
If you find that your toddler, who was sleeping well in his crib, is suddenly taking a long time to fall asleep at night, gets out of bed many times or is not sleeping well at night after you’ve made the switch to the “big kid” bed, he probably wasn’t ready for the change. Again, most children younger than 2 ½ do not have the cognitive ability to understand the imaginary boundaries that come with sleeping in a bed. If you feel you’ve made the switch too soon, it is totally 100% fine and should not be viewed as a regression if you decide to get your child’s crib back out. You can easily try again later when your child is more developmentally ready.
If you and your child are struggling with a recent transition to a “big kid” bed or if you are ready to make the switch but you’re not sure how to go about it, please contact me today! I can help you!
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