Moving your little one from a crib to a toddler bed is a milestone of early parenting. Here, child sleep expert Amy Lage, a graduate of the Family Sleep Institute and founder of Well Rested Baby in Beverly (www.wellrestedbaby.com), offers tips on when and how to change your child's sleeping environment:
First, make sure your child is fully ready for the move from crib to bed. If he’s climbing out of the crib, a change is definitely needed for safety reasons. But because the transition to a bed can affect your child emotionally, physically and mentally, Lage advises keeping your child in a crib as long as safely possible – as close to age 3 as you can.
Your child is ready for the move if:
• she has been climbing out of her crib
• he understands boundaries and can follow directions
• she actually asks for a “big kid” bed
• he is 3 years old
If your child isn’t quite ready but is able to climb out of the crib, here’s how to delay the move a bit:
• Remove the crib bumper. Safety experts recommend against using crib bumpers in the first place because of possible entanglement or suffocation risk, but if you’ve been using one and your child is climbing out of the crib by hoisting himself up with the help of his bumper, remove it.
• Put your child in a sleep sack over pajamas. Most kids cannot climb out of a crib in a sleep sack because it doesn’t allow them to lift up their legs.
• Catch him in the act. If you own a video monitor, the second you see him start to climb out, open his door and firmly say “NO.” Then without further conversation, lay him down and leave the room. Repeat this strategy until it sticks.
Making the Move
If your child is ready to transition to a bed, here’s what to do:
• Get your child involved to get her excited. Let her pick out some new sheets, a blanket or even the bed itself. Talk about the transition and explain that bedtime will remain the same – she’ll just be sleeping in new big-kid bed.
• Keep your current bedtime routine in place.
• Be clear on rules for the new bed. Let him know he's expected to stay in bed until morning. He may wander the first few nights. When that happens, be consistent: Every time he gets out of the bed, take him by the hand and walk him back to bed. Keep conversation to a minimum or none at all. If there's no communication, the novelty of getting out of bed will wear off quickly.
• Make the transition to a bed while your child is in a well-rested state and not over-tired.
• Avoid making the switch when other changes are going on in your toddler's life – a new baby, potty training, a move, etc.