Toddler Sleep 101 - PART TWO - Crib to Bed Transition

There are a lot of milestones in the first 3 years of a baby's life; sitting up, crawling, walking, sleeping through the night, and the list goes on. But one of the transitions that really makes you realize that your little baby is no longer a baby is the transition from crib to bed. Now, this transition can either be easy and pain-free (for all parties involved!) or....the opposite. There are some key components that we need to keep in mind when deciding how, when, and why we are transitioning to a big kid's bed, and this blog post is meant to help you with that decision. Read on and I hope you find it helpful!

The When

The biggest reason that the transition from crib to bed ends in disaster is that parents are making the switch far too early. We want to keep our child in the crib as close to 3 years of age as humanly possible. Why is that?
Before 2.5-3 years of age, children simply do not comprehend the imaginary boundaries of a bed. Once you are removing those crib bars, you are removing those boundaries. In addition, even if your child does understand that they are to stay put in bed, before this age they lack the impulse control to actually follow through and stay in bed. Too often, parents make the switch and the first few nights/weeks/even months are blissful. The child stays in their bed and there are no issues. But then one night, Johnny discovers that he can get out of this bed...and now he is free to roam his bedroom and maybe even the house! Now you have a child with "Jack-in-the-Box" syndrome, who pops out of bed every time you leave the bedroom. Exhausting.

But your child is climbing out of the crib, you say? There are a few tricks we can try to keep them in the crib a bit longer, to hopefully buy you a little more time:

  • A sleepsack. Ahhh I love sleep sacks. It is darn near impossible to scale a crib in a sleepsack. If you've used one from baby-hood - don't stop now! I had my daughter in a sleepsack until we made the transition to her bed around 3 years of age. Grobags make sleepsacks all the way up to 7-9 years of age! 
  • Turning the crib. This may seem a bit strange (and probably look a bit strange in the bedroom) but works really well especially if you have a crib that has ends that are taller than the sides. Simply flip the crib so that the headboard/footboard face outwards. This is often enough to deter a climber (at least for a while!)
  • Video monitor with the talk-back function. If you have a video monitor (love me a video monitor!) with a talk-back option, watch your child after you put him down for sleep. If he starts to lift his leg over the crib rail, say a stern, "NO!" into the monitor. You may have to repeat this a few times but he'll get the idea.
  • Lower the crib mattress. Seems obvious but sometimes gets missed! As well, make sure to remove crib bumpers or anything else that could give your child 'leverage'.

If you have tried all of these tricks religiously and your child is still able to climb out of the crib and is risking injury, it may be time to make the big move.

If your child does not climb out of the crib and seems happy and content in there, you may be asking yourself how you know when to transition. It's simple - when your child asks for it! By the time he can come to you and say that he would like to be sleeping in a big kid's bed, it's likely that he's now able to grasp what is happening, why it's happening, and what the rules are while it's happening.

The Why

Too often parents decide to move baby to a bed in hopes of correcting poor sleep habits. The transition should be a reward for good behavior, not a solution for poor behavior. I can almost guarantee you that if your child does not sleep well in a crib, they will not sleep better in a bed (and more likely, will sleep worse!)
This transition is not only a milestone in your life as a parent, it is a milestone in your child's life as well. An 18 month old does not understand what these changes mean. They aren't able to get excited about picking out sheets, or putting the bed together, or deciding on what the new rules of a bed are. But a 3 year old sure would! 
Parents with another baby on the way might feel that the arrival of a sibling is reason enough to make the move to a bed but I will caution you against that. It is not uncommon for an older sibling to 'regress' in certain ways (sleep being one of them!) when a new child is brought into the family. I don't know about you, but getting up all night long with a newborn and walking a 2 year old back to their room 100 times a night because they have been moved to a bed too soon does not sound like fun in my books ;) If it's at all possible (and this is exactly what we did) purchase a second crib for your toddler (even a less expensive one or second-hand one since you will only be using it for a few months or so) so that we aren't making the switch out of necessity, before the child is ready. If this isn't possible and you have to move the older child to a bed, make the move after the baby is born, not right before. That way, your older child does not feel 'pushed out' by the baby, and will have a few months to become acclimated to the new family dynamics. This is only a possibility if you had planned on co-sleeping with your baby in a bassinet for the first few months.

The How

It is so important to have a plan of action once you've decided that it's time to move to a bed. The first step will be choosing what type of bed your child will be moving to. A toddler bed? A twin? Straight to a double? It's entirely up to you. My personal recommendation is to start by removing a side of the crib (if that's possible with your particular model) to get them acclimated to sleeping without the confines of a crib but without making the transition seem so drastic, and then moving them straight to a twin bed. Especially if money is tight, a twin bed is your best option since it won't be long before your toddler outgrows a toddler-sized bed (as essentially, it is the exact same size as a crib). Involve your child in the process of picking out the bed and the accessories. This helps them to begin to understand what is happening and to get excited about it!

Your next steps will include:

  • Toddler-proofing the bedroom. Even though our goal is for the child to stay put in his bed all night long, that sometimes is not a reality. Since he is now able to have free-reign of his bedroom, you want that bedroom to be safe. If you wish, installing bed rails might be a good idea, especially if your child seems to move around a lot during the night.
  • Holding a Sleep Rules Meeting. This is why it's so important for your child to comprehend the transition. We want to be sure to sit the child down before the big move and explain to them what is happening, why it's happening (for good behavior I hope!), and what the rules of the new bed are. They need to know exactly what is expected of them and what the consequences are if they don't follow the rules. 
  • Have a game plan for set-backs. In a perfect world, your child will successfully transition without ever having the desire to leave the bed and roam the house (I can proudly say this is the case with my daughter, but we have yet to see if it will as easy with my son!) But in reality, this may not be the case, so we want to have a plan of action for the "Jack-in-the-Box syndrome" that we talked about earlier. If your child leaves their bed to roam, you will want to silently return them to their beds. The key here is silent - emotionless. The solution to helping a toddler learn to stay in bed is making it unrewarding to leave, and even negative attention is still attention. If he is getting a rise out of you, then he is likely to continue the behavior.
  • Consistency. It's impossible to say how long the transition will take, but I can promise you it will be a lot quicker and easier if you remain 200% consistent. Toddlers love to test their boundaries but it is our job as parents to set those boundaries and stick to them.

Has your child made the move from crib to bed? How did it go for you? How old were they? Let me know in the comments below, and good luck to those embarking on this adventure!