How to Make the Transition to a Big Bed Easier for Your Toddler
Parents of babies often have their attention on milestones their baby is achieving, from being able to lift their head during tummy time to learning to walk, babies are continually growing and changing and gaining ground. When your baby becomes a toddler life comes at you fast, the watching is less entertainment and more survival now, and the changes in routine and lifestyle just keep coming. As your baby grows into a toddler their needs change and you have to keep up.
Knowing when and how to approach big changes for your toddler is often a maze of confusing and conflicting advice. This is especially true when it comes to transitioning your toddler from a crib to a big bed. Cutting through the noise and figuring out what’s right for your family and when can seem complicated, but it is as simple as knowing your needs, goals, and making a plan. There are a few things to keep in mind during this exciting time of transition and a few questions to ask yourself, but if you take a little time you’ll be happy with the outcome.
Is it time?
Just like any other milestone, it’s best not to rush it. Putting your child in a big bed before they are ready is just asking for trouble. How do you know when it is the right time? First of all, you’ll need to assess whether your toddler is physically ready for the big bed. Can they escape their crib without help? If so, it may be safer to go ahead and transition, as climbing out of a traditional bed is much safer than scaling the wall of a crib and dropping to the floor. Second, you’ll want to make sure they are emotionally ready. If your toddler has a lot of other new things going on like a new sibling or a recent move, it may not be the best time to shake things up in the sleep department. Remember that you have time, and wait for it to be right before rushing into anything.
Making the right choices
Unless you bought a convertible crib, you have some choices to make. Most parents eventually come down on one side or the other of the bed debate, do you want a toddler bed that uses the same crib size mattress that your child can use for a few more years or do you want to jump straight to the twin size bed with guard rails? Depending on space, budget, and future goals either one may be right for your family.
Preparing ahead of time
Before you make the big switch start preparing your child by talking about the big bed and reading books that show characters transitioning away from the crib or even just books where characters sleep in a regular bed, be sure to point out the bed to your child and tell them they are going to get a big bed soon too. Some parents choose to take their toddler shopping with them for sheets/blankets for the new bed letting them choose a color or character for their bedding that gets them excited about the new adventure.
Do one last crawl through of your child’s bedroom before setting them loose in a new bed, make sure that nothing dangerous or tempting is available should they wake up late at night and go exploring their room. You may want to put a baby gate on their door to keep them from having free run of the house, but remember that they may just climb over anyway, and once they start potty training it can be useful for them to be able to make it to the bathroom quickly anyway. The trick is to never assume you’re 100% done with baby-proofing your house and keep an eye out for issues and regularly reassess the needs of the house.
The first nights
The first few nights of the transition can be hard on everyone. Your child may be scared of the new bed, just because it is new. They may also feel too excited to sleep and wander from their bed more than you expected. It is important to plan ahead for this as much as possible. Get extra sleep for a few nights before, and perhaps plan the transition to take place on a weekend or when you’re off work. Remember to be gentle but firm when returning your toddler to their bed. Now is not the time for a lot of coddling and drama, as it may just excite them more and cause them to continue to leave the bed. Walking them to their bedroom or picking them up and carrying them is fine, let them know that it is time to sleep and that they are safe and loved and then turn out the light and give them peace. If you make a big production about it, it may become a game for your toddler. Be as boring as possible.
If your child is showing signs of fear or having bad dreams, you may want to transition back to the crib for a while, it could be they just were not ready yet. However, it may be possible to just make their room more comfortable for them by purchasing a child safe nightlight, playing soft music, or providing them with a comforting love like a stuffed animal. Older toddlers may prefer to have a small flashlight by their bed in case they need to check things out.
Don’t expect that everything will go perfectly at first, your child is embarking on a whole new lifestyle and it can take time and patience to get used to the new digs. Making sure their room is safe, that they feel comfortable, and that you react with support and love when they struggle are the most important things right now. Be prepared for a disturbance in their sleep routines, and know that eventually things will even out again. The best plan is to keep up any other routines as much as possible, making the new bed the only change. That means keeping the bedtime routine the same, not starting the new bed and something else like potty training at the same time, and minding your temper when the little one starts testing boundaries. If you can keep a consistent house as much as possible they will get used to their new bed and eventually you’ll both get a good night’s sleep again.