Your wee one’s life is always filled with so many milestones and transitioning to a toddler bed is another one of those. Usually between your little one’s second and third birthday, though some kid’s transition earlier, they will be ready for a toddler bed and despite them always being ‘your’ baby, this is a sure sign that they are no longer a baby. There is a great Elmo book about the transition that can help ease some of your wee one’s anxiety. I wrote this blog to help ease some of yours.
It can be hard to know when to make the transitional and how to do it most successfully so I have written this blog post to hopefully help take some of the guess work out of it for you. Before I dive into the nitty gritty I thought I’d share with you how we did it for my oldest son.
We decided to do it because we were expecting our second baby at the time and didn’t want my oldest to feel as though his bed was being taken by the baby and so wanted to have him in his new toddler bed well before the baby arrived.
We bought a bed for JR’s second birthday but had it delivered a few months before so it was in his bedroom while he was still in the crib. We wanted to be able to talk about how great it was and how exciting it would be to sleep in it when he was ready. We played on it and took naps on it but he still slept in his crib at night. We bought fun bed linens that he helped pick out and finally on the night of his birthday we decided together it was time. Two years old is early for many toddlers though but most make the transition somewhere between two years and three years old.
Once we made the transition we didn’t go back. We made the bed feel as much like a crib as possible at first (without pillows and blankets and with a guard). We started by sitting in the room with him after story time until he fell asleep and then once he felt safe in the new bed we would leave after story time and come back “to check on him” in 10 minutes so he knew we were coming back but we always reiterated that he could not get out of bed, just like the crib. If he wanted something he needed to call us. If he ever did get out of the bed we would walk him back tuck him in and say ‘I Love you’ but not engage in any other conversation. Trust me when I say he got out of bed a lot at first but it became a battle of wills and eventually he learned that once he was in bed, he was to stay in bed until morning or unless something was wrong. Now that you know my story let me give you some general tips.
HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY ARE READY
- The biggest issue with a crib is safety. As soon as your toddler can climb out of the crib or looks like they are about to be able to you should transfer them to a bed to avoid injury. This can happen when they are about 35” tall and somewhere after they turn 18 months. Remember there is no strict age/size rule here, these are guidelines. Obviously there is a broad range and some will be able to do so earlier and some much later but even if your wee one isn’t a climber it’s important to move them to a toddler bed before their 3rd birthday as the longer you leave them in the crib the more attached they are going to become to it!
- You may also want to make the transition because you’re having another baby. If this is the case it is best to make the transfer at least 2 months before your due date. The last thing you want is for you toddler to be dealing with the arrival of a new sibling and also a new bed. Besides you’re going to be without a lot of sleep and any big night time changes like this should happen before you are up all night feeding the baby! If your toddler and baby are going to be sharing a room, make sure to move the crib into a new position in the room so that your toddler will feel less attached to it.
- Don’t make the move to a toddler bed when your toddler is having other disruptions in their normal routine. Like potty training, school, going on vacation, moving and so on. Try to do it when there aren’t a lot of other things going on.
MY TODDLER IS READY NOW WHAT
- Get them excited about it. It is very important to get your toddler excited about the upcoming move to a toddler bed. There are many ways to do this from reading stories about it, allowing them to pick out the bed and if you can, talking positively about toddler beds and older siblings, cousins, friends that are sleeping in one, and letting them pick out linens in their favorite theme and so on. It has to be emphasized as a really fun change. It is good to have a little build-up before bringing in the bed when you talk about how great it’s going to be rather than talking about it and doing it in one fell swoop. Begin talking about it before you order the bed and continue while you are waiting for it to arrive.
- Make the bed feel familiar and safe. Once the bed arrives make sure it feels like a safe place. Install guards on the side and allow your toddler to put in his or her favorite animals. You may not want to put in all the new linens and pillows right away as your toddler is probably more used to just sleeping in the crib with a sheet and all the new bits and bobs can be disconcerting. Introduce these gradually as it makes sense and your child feels comfortable with them.
- Remember this transition may take time. Once the new bed has arrived you may want to leave the crib in the room and still allow them to sleep there at night but help them to take naps on the new bed during the day, play on it, act out bed time routines with the new bed and their new animals and begin a bedtime routine that surrounds the new bed e.g. make sure stories happen in the new bed. Your toddler may be so excited they don’ need this extra time to transition so pay attention to their reactions and see what works best for them.
- Make sure your toddler has a sensible bedtime and a relaxing bedtime ritual. If you haven’t got one by now then there is not time to lose establishing a consistent routine. In my house we have a relaxing bath followed by PJ’s and then stories in bed with the main light out and just a small night light. It can be hard to keep to your toddler’s bedtime but really they need to go to bed between 6.30 and 8.30pm. Any later is too late and can often make them more hyper and harder to get to sleep. If your toddler’s bedtime has crept later than this try and bring it forward before transitioning to the toddler bed.
- Handling the big night. When the big night comes there are different theories on how best to do this. And the methods you choose will depend on both you are your toddler. Some like to start right away with insisting that the toddler stays in the bed. Once the bedtime ritual is done and it is time for sleep and you have explained there is no getting out of bed just like there was no getting out of the crib until morning, you may have to walk your toddler back to their bed over and over. This can be tough and take a lot of discipline on the part of the parent not to interact with your toddler and just keep tucking them back in without engaging in a conversation. Alternatively, some prefer a more gradual approach especially if your toddler is a little scared of this new change. This can include, reading until your child falls asleep from the bed or a chair next to bed. The advantage of sitting in a chair to start with is that your child learns to snuggle down and go to sleep without you lying next to them and feels reassured that you are still in the room. Eventually though you will graduate to just reading the decided upon number of stories and then kissing your toddler good night and leaving the room. Whichever method you use do try and be sensitive to the fact that this is a big change for your toddler and try to reduce as many of the fears as possible. You may want to use soothing music, a small night light etc.
- Be aware of night time walkers. The new freedom of a toddler bed may mean your wee one wanders at night looking for you, trying to get into your bed, get a drink etc…You need to make sure your house is safe and baby proofed. If this happens simply walk your toddler back to their bed, tuck them back in and give them a kiss and say you love them. Try not to engage in too much conversation, turn on lights and so on. The temptation to lie down with your toddler is huge (I’ve done it) but if you do the night time wandering will probably continue as they know it results in you coming to sleep with them.
Good Luck and remember this is a transition; it probably won’t work in just one night. Be patient and stay positive, your little baby is growing up!