Every Tuesday, we post tips to make family life easier, covering an array of topics from the kitchen, to parenting, to managing your household. Over the next few weeks our tips will focus on childhood transitions, and how to make them as seamlessly as possible. Two weeks ago, we offered our best tips for getting rid of the pacifier. Last week, we talked about saying goodbye to the bottle. And this week, we are covering tips for a smooth transition from the crib to sleeping in a big kid bed!
Don’t Do It Until You Have To
Every one of these early childhood transitions have caused me to stress about the devastating impact it would have on what until that point is working really well. Big M has always been an amazing sleeper, and especially after having a second child who was still up during the night, that was not something I wanted to mess with. She climbed out of her crib twice: once when she was about 18 months old, and not again until she was nearly 2. The first time, we had just driven back from my in-laws after a Mother’s Day Brunch. Instead of napping in the car on the 90 minute drive home, she stayed awake the whole time and was uber cranky when we finally arrived. We put her down for a nap (which she was not particularly happy about but was overly necessary), started carrying in the luggage from the car, and then heard a very loud thump from her room. My husband and I both went flying up the stairs, and other than thoroughly terrifying herself, she was unharmed. And she scared herself enough that she didn’t do it again for 6 months.
When she did it at 2, again at nap time, I had a two month old who was still up 2-3 times a night. I was not going to mess with my child who slept all night and went down for naps and bedtime with no struggle by swapping out her crib. I held my breath, and kept my fingers crossed that she had sufficiently scared herself enough again to keep her in the crib just a little bit longer. Finally, at around 2.5, when Lil’ M was now an 8 month old, 12 hour a night sleeper, and Big M was successfully potty trained during the day, I decided it was time for her to graduate. She was getting a big girl bed!
As a general rule of thumb: you should migrate your child to a big kid bed if a) they are repeatedly climbing out of the crib or b) they have reached 3 years of age or 36″ in height. At 36″ tall, even with the mattress at its lowest level, your child’s chest stands above the crib rail, making flipping over the side more likely. You can do it sooner if you need the crib for a new baby, but unless you have to, I wouldn’t mess with what works on the heels of another big transition! And since many cribs today are convertible (to toddler bed or even full size headboards), it may make sense to invest in a second crib anyway.
Guru Tip: If your toddler starts climbing out super early (younger than 12-18 months), you can remove the metal grate the mattress sits on, and put your mattress directly on the floor inside your crib. The mattress should be tall enough that they can’t get out under the rails, and it will be low enough that they can’t climb out over the rail either.
Before You Make the Move
Before you swap out the crib, there are a few important checklist items to cover first.
Talk About It
Just like with the pacifier and the bottle, don’t just pull the plug one day. Talk about it with your toddler. Stress how special it is that they are now going to get to sleep in the big kid bed. You might even take them along to pick out new bedding.
Secure the Room
I can’t stress this enough. When your child is confined to a crib, they likely were never left unattended in their room where they could freely roam, potentially climb shelves or empty their dresser. In a big kid bed, they will be able to freely get up and move around. In the middle of the night. When you are sound asleep. Make sure their room is safe. Secure dressers and bookshelves to the wall. Make sure blinds are cordless or cords are secured out of their reach. Secure any electrical cords and cover outlets. Put door knob protectors on closets or on the inside of their door if you don’t want them roaming the house at night. Remove creams, lotions, medicines, and wipe dispensers from their reach. And take it from my experience, just because they are in a drawer out of sight, doesn’t mean they don’t know where they are and won’t take them out!
Establish a Bedtime/Nap Time Routine
If you don’t have one already, before you make the move to a big kid bed, it is helpful to have an established routine. For us, we go upstairs, use the potty, brush our teeth, take a bath, put on pjs, read a story and then it’s lights out and time for bed. That has been the routine essentially since she was born. Our favorite, Daniel Tiger, has a great episode about morning and night time routines, there is also an amazing app: Daniel Tiger’s Day & Night if your little one needs some encouragement.
Sleeping in the Big Kid Bed
Sheets and Blankets
When you make up the new bed, you have two options. You can celebrate this big kid transition with a new sheet set your child helps you pick out. If they LOVE a particular color or character, this can help excite them about the transition. Or you can use a toddler version of their existing bedding to make it less of an event. Big M’s bed converted to a toddler bed. I ordered the matching toddler bedding set to her existing baby bed set. I left on the bumpers and bed skirt, and added the flat sheet and bigger comforter. She wasn’t having it. Nearly a year later, she still sleeps in the toddler bed with only the fitted sheet and her baby blanket. The bigger comforter is even the same print as her baby blanket, and we have told her she can use both, that we aren’t taking ‘blankie’ away, but she is not having it. She was thrilled, however, with the pillow. A year later, and she still sleeps in the bed with just a fitted sheet, her pillow and her ‘blankie’… but she sleeps, so I’ll take it.
Keep Transitional Objects
This brings me to transitional objects. Whatever they want to sleep with, let them. Whether that’s blankie, a stuffed Daniel Tiger, or using the bumpers to make it look like their old crib. If it makes them feel cozy in the big kid bed, let it be.
Staying in Bed
I can assure you, no matter how well behaved your child is, they will seize this new-found freedom to explore their environment. This is why you secured the room, so they can explore it safely and without your total supervision. My biggest piece of advice is NOT to make a big deal about staying in the bed. At first, Big M would just go back and forth to her book shelf, getting a book to read in bed, taking it back, repeat, until she fell asleep. Then, as she started to give up her afternoon nap, she would elect to ‘just play quietly’ instead of sleeping at all… and occasionally, I would find her asleep on her bedroom floor, or in her chair or with only her head in the bed.
This was just last week! She probably only takes an actual nap about 1-2x a month now, or when she is sick, but she still has quiet time after lunch everyday, just in case she needs to rest. The good news about no more naps is bedtime is a breeze. She’s practically asleep before I close the door. Making a big deal about staying in the bed is a losing power struggle, and it doesn’t have to be. Like with food, you can make it a battle – or present food at routine meal times and let them eat when they are hungry. With sleep, present the opportunity at routine times, and when they are tired, they will sleep. Sure, we have had phases – like when she realized she was tall enough to reach and turn on the lights. She went to sleep with the lights on more than once. I always turned them off when I went up to bed.
One area where we did face some significant transition was morning wake ups. When Big M was still in her crib, I would often hear her stirring around 5AM, but she would settle back to sleep until 6:30-7AM. In the big kid bed, she started getting up and playing in her room, ready to start her day at 5AM. This in combination with starting preschool and not really napping anymore made her a bear… especially in the late afternoon. For her third birthday, we got her an OK to Wake! Children’s Alarm Clock and Nightlight.
Through a concealed control panel, you set the clock and the time that it is “Ok to Wake!” I set it for 6:45AM. At that time, the clock lights up green, and the smiley face displays. The buttons on the feet make the nightlight come on (glows yellow) and the face appear. We ended up putting it up on her shelf out of her reach because she was taking it into bed with her, and eventually figured out how to open the concealed panel. It has been highly effective. When I come in to get her in the morning, she cheerfully declares, “Green means go!” The clock comes with two face plates – the green alien and a pink flower. Big M likes to change them up.
Despite all my anxiety before the switch, Big M made the transition to the big kid bed fairly easy on us. She was excited about being out of diapers, and ready for the next step in being a big kid. And we never made staying in the bed a battle. My hair is already turning gray just at the mere thought of Lil’ M, aka The Climbing Destroyer, being loose in her room. I’m counting my lucky stars she hasn’t climbed out of her crib yet at 17 months. If you do plan on making the move with a younger child, check out these great tips from CanDoKiddo!
At what age did/will you put your child in a big kid bed? How did the transition go? If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the full series: Early Childhood Transitions.