When it's time to transition from a crib to a big kid bed there are certain questions you should ask yourself before you consider making the big move. If you transition your little one too early, you could be creating an unwanted mess of bedtime, and nap issues. There are ways to know if your toddler is ready to make the switch so that the transition is as smooth as possible for you and them.
How Do I know When It's The Right Time?
This can be tough especially if YOU don't feel ready. You may have another little one at home and you're hoping to get a few more months of keeping them in a crib so that it makes sleep less challenging. Perhaps they are talking about a big kid bed already but you're not sure you are prepared to face what new challenges this may present. Or, maybe you're bringing another baby home shortly and hoping to free up the crib before their arrival. Whatever the case may be, read ahead for some tips and helpful hints to make the transition less frightening.
Preparing Them for Change
If your child does not have the verbal skills to understand bedtime rules then it probably isn't a good time to transition them from their crib. With change and a "big" kid bed comes a new set of rules and expectations they need to be prepared to follow. Talking with your spouse prior to making the switch and making sure you're both on the same page as far as what your rules will be, how you will handle any issues, and what consequences may follow. For example, this will provide consistency for your child so that they know what is expected of them, what happens if they get out of bed after bedtime, or during the night. Make sure whatever rules you put in place, you follow through with each time. This will shorten the duration of and reaction from your child. Discuss their big kid bed and make it exciting for them. Let them pick out the theme of their room, their sheets, and maybe a new stuffed animal or book for bedtime. If your child has already been talking about a big kid bed then this could be a great indication that they are ready and they have the verbal skills to understand what is expected of them. If you don't think your child is ready to understand expectations, rules, or the consequences then consider waiting a few more months before making the transition.
Climbing Out of The Crib
Obviously with climbing out of the crib comes concern for injury. Once this is happening there are a few ways to deter them from being able to climb out. 1. Lower their mattress all the way to the floor, removing any slats or spring that may be holding the mattress.
2. Remove any items in the crib that are large enough to give them that extra "step" up.
3. A sleep sack can be a helpful unless they've already mastered the climb sleep sack and all.
4. Put pillows around the crib to cushion any falls
If your child is climbing out and finding their way out of their room, stay calm when you take them back to their crib. Give them little interaction and let them know they will not receive any attention other than to repetitively be taken back to bed. Remember, consistency is going to be your biggest helper. If you have a monkey on your hands, this is all much easier said than done. But often one or a few of these steps can help buy you some more time before transitioning to a big kid bed if you believe they aren't ready yet. If they are climbing and know how to safely navigate getting to the floor you may be able to work on teaching them climbing is not okay. If they are climbing and falling or you are worried they will hurt themselves, then it probably is time to move to a big kid bed to ensure their safety.
Mastered The Skill of Falling Asleep
Before you transition to a big kid bed work on getting your child to put themselves to sleep independently at bedtime as well as when they wake during the middle of the night. If your child hasn't mastered this skill, then reconsider keeping them in their crib longer. With a big kid bed comes new challenges. If your little one is able to go to sleep they are more likely to go to bed with ease, and stay in bed all night. Sleep training is easier when a child is in a crib because they are contained. When a child is in a big kid bed they have more freedom which can make it a bit more challenging. When a child needs help falling asleep at bedtime, chances are they will need that same help falling asleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. When your child has mastered the skill of falling asleep independently, and you know they have the verbal skills to understand what staying in bed all night means, then it could be time for a big kid bed.
How Do We Make The Change?
Talking with your child and preparing them for change is helpful, especially if they are a creature of habit or you anticipate some anxiety with change. Most kids are so excited at the thought of a "big kid" bed and hardly miss their crib at all. Consider positioning their new bed in a corner of the room. This will help them feel a sense of comfort and containment just like they had in their crib. It is also a safety measure as the walls will prevent falls. On the exposed side make sure to put a bed rail at least until you know how your child will handle the transition. Our son is a mover so he did laps around the perimeter of his crib at night. When we transitioned to a big bed I was a little uncertain of how he would handle any exposed areas that could cause him to fall out of bed. Our crib converted into a full size bed and he has a headboard and a tall footboard. His bed is also up against a wall, so we only have one exposed side to worry about. The bed rail and a few pillows have seemed to do the trick just fine.
If your child responds well to positive reinforcement then a sticker chart is a great way to set rules and reward them for good behavior. On your chart create your own set of rules and expectations for bedtime, nighttime, and even morning wake up. Discuss these with your child and in the morning have them put a sticker on their chart for "stay in bed all night". If they need a bit more than just the sticker chart for some reinforcement then you can consider taking away privileges or rewarding them with something exciting when their chart is filled.
Remember to safety proof the room for your child. With a big kid bed comes freedom to get up and move around the room, whether you want them to or not. Make sure you have removed anything dangerous, covered up any outlets, get rid of blinds with cords, and always anchor furniture to the wall.
When your child is in a big kid bed they are going to have an initial period of excitement. Every time they wake up in the morning it's a reminder of "wow I'm in a big kid bed" and they will be so excited to get up for the day, because for the first time, they can let themselves out of bed! This may be okay with you but you also don't want them getting up for the day at 5am. Even if they were sleeping well past 5am before the switch, with the excitement may come an earlier wake up. There are plenty of options out there for gadgets that will let your little one know it is time to wake up for the day. We went with the Hatch Baby for our son. It has a number of different features we liked, it's portable, and we can control it from our phones. When it turns green that means, it's time to start the day. If it's not green, it's still night time and you stay in bed.
There is another gadget out there that I didn't purchase but am considering. We're still in the early phases of the transition but last night our son got out of bed five times before falling asleep. He has learned to sneak through the bathroom and come out the other side which is quieter and he snuck up on us and said "good morning!" at 9:30pm. It's called the Toddlermonitor. It hangs on their door knob and it will alert your phone when the door opens! Genius if you ask me. There are other alarm type things out there but this one I like because it wont wake up the whole house by sounding an alarm, and it also won't scare your child half to death when they open the door which will lead to a meltdown. You can pair three different Toddlermonitors to your phone. I'm thinking we may just have to purchase this and give it a try.
If you're about to embark on the switch from a crib to a big kid bed, you got this!
Remember to be consistent with your child from day one. Explain rules and privileges, set your expectations. Safety proof their room, and your house. Offer positive reinforcement, and rewards for good sleep.