Here’s the situation in my house right now: Jack is 2.5 years old, Bingley just turned 13 weeks and soon they will be sharing a room. For a while we can make it work with two cribs in there, but Jack is VERY quickly outgrowing his crib. He’s over 3 feet tall now and not slowing down anytime soon. So, when should we make the move to a big kid bed, and how?
Now, if you’re reading this on my website, chances are that you came here looking for some advice about teaching your little one the skills they need to sleep through the night.
If your kid hasn’t learned these sleeping skills the answer to the when question is, “NOT NOW!" There are two reasons why I say this. The first is because there is absolutely no rush to get your toddler out of their crib and into a bed. There are plenty of 3-year old’s happily sleeping in cribs, and I can tell you for certain how many clients I’ve had who have said to me, “I should have moved them to a bigger bed sooner”, that would be zero clients. Zero.
There is this nasty rumour flying around that the longer a child is in a crib, the more attached they grow to it, and the tougher it is for them to make the transition when they finally do, but that rumour is, just plain old wrong.
The other reason is, if you’re about to start sleep training there is an inevitable adjustment period for your toddler. During this “adventure”, it’s comforting for your little one to have familiar surroundings. By leaving his bedroom the same, and his comfort tools (like a stuffie or blankie) the same, this transition is easier on him as he masters the skills of independent sleep.
For me, it goes without saying that a toddler who sleeps well independently can make the transition to a bigger bed much easier than a toddler who cannot. A toddler who is well rested and able to fall asleep independently is far less likely to leave their room at night. Nine times out of ten, parents of toddlers who contact me about their child leaving the bed at night are having that issue because their child was moved to a big kid bed before those independent sleep skills were mastered.
Alright, so let’s assume that either your little one is already falling asleep on their own and sleeping through the night, or that, for whatever reason, you’re in a hurry to get your toddler out of the crib and into a bed.
The first step, obviously, is preparation. You will want to explain to your child what is about to be happening. You can start by explaining 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.
But all of this comes with the caveat that so many other toddler transitions come with. On the one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the switch, but at the same time, you don’t want to make it a big deal. If you try to turn this into some sort of huge milestone, you can stress your kiddo out and make them more nervous about the switch. We want them to be excited about this new sleeping situation, not anxious.
Now that it’s time to actually make the trip to IKEA and pick out the brand-new bed, be sure to bring your toddler along. For us, Jack didn’t have a choice in the actual bed, as we will need something that can be turned into a bunk bed for when Bingley is at this stage. (We chose the Kura…seriously, if you look up IKEA Kura hack you will find so many AMAZING ideas) Then try to navigate your way through the marketplace without adding a million other things to your cart…
“Oh hey! I don’t have this succulent! Ooooh…new candle holder!”
Giving your child some input into which bed he wants, what sheets he likes, what pillows feel the most comfortable will obviously ensure that he gets something he likes. These actions also help give your child a sense of ownership over the whole transition.
If you’re brave 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. Every single time we buy anything from IKEA, I boldly declare “DON’T HELP ME, I’LL DO IT” (Paul can back me up on this one). I’m just WAY too Type-A to let my husband, let alone my toddler, in on an IKEA build. The mere thought of a toddler and an unassembled piece of Ikea furniture in the same room makes me shudder.
After that brand-new bed is in place you’ll want to keep on top of 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 him a new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.
Again, you don’t need to make a production out of it. Tell him you’re proud of him, but try to avoid statements like, “What a big boy you are now!” Toddlers are typically in a perpetual state of uncertainty about whether or not they want to do this whole “growing up” thing, and we want to keep things as low-key as we can. Kids are SO perceptive!! If you are calm about this switch, they will pick up on that and it will calm them through the transition.
So now that your toddler’s been put to bed and the light’s been 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 starts doing all of those things the very first night. The solution to the latter two of these situations is the same. Offer a warning when your
toddler demonstrates the unwanted behaviour, tell them what the consequence is going to be if they do it again, and then follow through on that consequence if and when they repeat it.
Chances are that you’ve already discovered a consequence that works on your toddler, and I strongly suggest you keep that it place. Again, we don’t want anything to change except for the bed, so keep doing whatever you’ve been doing up until now in regard to managing behaviour.
In case you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, I find that taking the stuffie or blankie away for a short period of time or closing the door all the way are both pretty functional without putting your toddler into hysterics. For each repeat offense, increase the length of time that you keep the door closed and it stays closed or the stuffie stays out of the bed. That pretty much sums it up. Explain what’s happening, keep things light, set the expectations and enforce the rules. It’s not always going to be easy, but it is pretty straightforward.
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 are the parent. It’s almost a mathematical certainty that your little one is going to buck a bit about this change. He will probably leave his room a lot, He’ll call for you to come in, ask for a glass of water, and more than anything, say that she wants to go back to sleeping in his crib.
It is so important that you hold your ground every single step of the way, especially during the first few weeks. If you start bending the rules and allowing her to climb into bed with you, or letting him get back into the crib, this process is going to go on for months. Toddlers THRIVE on boundaries. If you’re flimsy with your boundaries that can leave them feeling anxious and unsure of what is coming. That’s just not fair to them.
So, harden your will, maintain an air of calm authority, and enforce the rules firmly and consistently. It may make you feel like a bit of a tyrant at times, but it will get your little one sleeping peacefully in his new bed a whole lot sooner. Then, he will be well-rested and ready to take on all those fun new adventures with you!