At some point, every baby grows into a toddler, and eventually needs to make the transition from crib to bed. I generally recommend that parents wait until at least 3 years of age to transition their toddler from a crib into a ‘big kid’ bed, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that once the crib rail falls below a child’s chest (while standing in the crib), it’s time to transition. For most toddlers, this coincides with my recommendation, especially when the crib mattress is dropped to the lowest position available.
Why do I recommend waiting until your toddler is at least 3? For starters, there’s a maturity issue. Your child needs to truly understand and be able to follow the bedtime rules. In addition to maturity, safety is a huge factor. An 18 month old roaming your house at night is scary. Even if you are a baby-proofing expert, it’s not worth the potential risk of your baby finding a lamp, plug in, or pull chord. Add to this the potential for emotional meltdowns, tantrums, and sleep disruptions when a baby is moved too early, and it makes sense to wait a bit.
If your toddler is ready to make the transition, there are a few things that you can to do help them through this change gently and with minimal resistance.
Have a Conversation
Talk to your toddler about the upcoming change. Explain why they will be getting a new bed, and when. Get excited! Be sure to mention a new bed often, so that your toddler has time to process the information. At 3, she may have a myriad of questions for you, so be prepared.
Make It Special
This is a big deal, and a big transition for your toddler. Make it special by having him help you pick out new sheets, blankets, even the bed itself if you’d like. This may also be a good opportunity to redecorate his room if you’ve been thinking about it. Have your child as involved as possible, as it will help him take ownership of this new responsibility and ‘big kid’ status.
When choosing a bed, be sure to pay attention to the distance from the mattress to the floor, and consider purchasing a bed rail, or even a toddler bed to help with safety (especially if your child is petite).
Discuss the Rules, and Stick to Them
Now that your toddler is moving into a bed, a crib will no longer confine them. This is a big step, and many toddlers will test their boundaries (and your patience), until they’ve found the limits. Testing limits is completely normal, but when it involves bedtime, it can be both trying and exhausting. A few basic things to think about where rules are concerned:
1. Baby gates. You may want to consider placing gates to help restrict movement should your child wake up and decide to go exploring.
2. Bathroom trips. Decide if your potty trained toddler needs to ask for help, or if they can visit the bathroom alone. You may want to consider placing a potty chair in their room if you are sure they will not spill it.
3. The boomerang effect. What happens when they get up? Talk about how bedtime is time for sleep, not playtime. If your child gets out of bed, you may want to revisit The Shuffle to help encourage them to sleep.
4. Early Rising. If your child is prone to early rising (and you haven’t already), consider purchasing a sleep clock that will tell her when it’s okay to awaken, and make it part of their room makeover. And don’t forget to continue with dramatic wake up!
You may want to consider leaving the crib in your toddler’s room, at least for a short period of time. Some children like to have a choice, and being able to choose a big kid bed is empowering. On the other hand, some children will merely be distracted by having their crib in the room (and may even try to climb back in, which is usually an indicator that they aren’t ready to make the switch). As a parent, it’s up to you whether you remove the crib immediately or after a few weeks.
Moving from a crib into a big bed is exciting, but it’s also going to take time. Most children adjust to this change in a few weeks, but you should be prepared to deal with some challenges. Most children are going to test the boundaries to see how you react. Make sure that you stick to their bedtime routine, and return to The Shuffle if you need additional reinforcement.