When it comes to making the transition from a crib to a big kid bed, there are two questions that need to be answered. The first is when, and the second is how.
When it’s time to graduate from the crib
Often times parents want to move very young toddlers out of their crib because they are jumping out or they need the crib for baby number two, but I have found that kids who are jumping out of their crib will absolutely jump out of their bed. All. Night. Long. This is a path straight to sleep debt and serious frustration for all involved.
Children are most successful transitioning to a big kid bed when they are at least 2.5 years of age, potty trained, and understand the idea of imaginary boundaries. The four walls of a crib create a cozy space for just one thing: sleeping. No walls on a big kid bed invite children to do all sorts of unwanted (not sleeping) activities after lights out. So, you must have a kiddo who gets that they will need to stay in their big bed ALL night long just like they do their little bed.
Learning to LOVE the big-kid bed
Step number one is preparation. You’re going to want to fill your little one in on what’s happening. Explain to them that they’re going to be making the move into the new bed, set a date, and let them know when the switch is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do it with a positive spin. “Your new big bed will be more comfortable, it will fit you better and you’ll be able to get in and out all by yourself without any help.”
When it’s time to actually make the trip to IKEA to pick out the hardware, be sure to bring your toddler along. Giving your child some input into which bed she wants, what sheets she likes, what pillows feel the most comfortable, will obviously ensure that she gets something she likes, but will also help her feel a sense of ownership over her new bed, which can work wonders in easing the transition.
If you’re really adventurous, you can even let your little one help you put the new bed together, although speaking from personal experience, I suggest that you do, you know, literally anything else. The mere thought of a toddler and an unassembled piece of Ikea furniture in the same room gives me the shivers.
So now that it’s put together and the unicorn sheets are on, you’ll want to keep the bed in the same place the crib used to be. In fact, you’ll want to keep just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big change, so try not to make any unnecessary additional changes to the bedroom.
This goes double for the schedule on the night of the big event. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night, don’t alter the routine, don’t switch up bedtime, don’t try to give her a new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.
You might want to have a treasure box with a few small prizes that your child is looking forward to. Let them know that if they are cooperative at bedtime and can stay in their bed until the clock turns green, they can have a sweet prize in the morning. This can be helpful for making changes happen quickly, but you’ll want to stop giving prizes and just give praise after the first few days.
No need to make a production out of it. Simply tell her you’re proud of her, and you expect her to “rest her body quietly” in her new bed just like you do in her old bed. When your little angel has been put to bed, forehead kissed and the lights turned out, there are a few different scenarios that can play out.
Scenario 1 – They adapt immediately to their new bed and they don’t test the rules whatsoever. In this case, celebrate heartily. You are among the very lucky minority.
Scenario 2 – Your little one seems to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, starts leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for mom to come back in several times a night.
Scenario 3 – Your toddler is uncooperative and testing you fiercely the very first night.
The solution to scenarios 2 and 3 is the same: Offer a warning when your toddler demonstrates any unwanted behavior, tell them what the consequence is going to be if they do it again, and then follow up on that consequence if and when they repeat it.
One final thought to keep in mind… As much as we’re trying to keep this transition as stress-free and smooth as we can, remember this: you need to steer the ship. When toddlers start testing they are usually feeling unsure about who is in charge of making sure they are safe and protected, you want to send a clear message that it’s the adult in the room who is going to keep the ship afloat and on coarse.
It’s almost a mathematical certainty that your little one is going to rock the boat in these changing waters. He’ll probably leave his bed a lot, He’ll call for you to come in, ask for a glass of water, want two (or six) more trips to the potty and more than anything, say that he wants to go back to sleeping in the crib. So don’t be frustrated when this happens; with kindness you’ll remind him of the expectations and with calm you will follow through on consequences to create the boundaries that provide security.
NOTE: if your child is already struggling to go to bed in their cozy crib independently, or is jumping out, then the chances that they are going to transition to a big kid bed with confidence is slim to nil. Please check out my toddler package or just contact me for a free evaluation to share my strategies for teaching your child to love sleep and feel empowered to do it all by themselves.