It can be both daunting and exciting to start considering the transition out of the crib. You never know how that first night is going to go and sometimes, if you aren’t prepared, it can open up Pandora’s box of sleep problems with your previously good sleeper.
In this blog post I will walk you through both the “when” and the “how” for transitioning to a toddler bed or regular bed, as well as the bumps in the road you may hit, and how to problem solve them.
When should I transition my toddler out of the crib?
There are going to be a few things that you should consider before moving to a toddler crib.
1. Is your child old enough to understand boundaries and expectations?
Having the freedom to get out of bed and walk out of their room, means they should also be getting really good at understanding boundaries and consequences. For this reason, it is best if you wait till at least 2.5 years before you make the switch out of the crib.
2. Are they climbing out of the crib? Have you tried everything to remedy that?
- You lowered the mattress to the lowest setting (even onto the floor)
- You use a sleep sack to keep them from throwing their legs over the crib
- You have tried crib pants (if they are younger than 2.5)
- You have flipped the crib around if it has a high back so that it is harder to climb out
- You have tried the pack and play and they can still climb out
If you have tried all of the above, and they are still muscling their way out of the crib, congrats you have a very agile toddler, and also, it’s time to move to a bed for their safety. Yes, even if they are younger than 2.5 years old.
3. Are you making the change for the right reasons?
If your child is older than 2.5 or climbing out of the crib, then yes, go ahead and move them, BUT neither of those criteria are met, and you just want to give them a room renovation, or are excited about a cute montessori bed you saw… WAIT! If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Secondly, if you are having sleep issues with your 1 year old and you believe that the bed will make it easier on the family (you figure that if you have to lay on the floor with them, you would be more comfortable on a bed, or you think they hate their crib) , please consider investing in sleep help instead.
I have worked with families in this camp, and I have had them move back to the crib before we even started working together. At the end of my program, their little one was sleeping through the night in the crib.
How should you prepare?
Ok, so you read the above, and you meet all the requirements to move along with the transition. Now what?
First- Start prepping your little one on the transition. Let them know they will get to sleep in a big bed now, create excitement around the change, and do not start warning them to stay in the room. In fact, make no mention of staying in the room. Funnily enough, for some kids, it will take them a minute to realize they can get out of bed, and better yet, walk out of the room! I think it took Alessa a good 3 months to realize this haha.
Next- Get them a toddler clock like the hatch or any other “ok to wake” clock. These little clocks change colors when it is time for bed, and when it is ok to get out. Make sure the clock is set on a red tone during the night (in the lowest light setting) so that you don’t disrupt sleep with the light, and start explaining to your little one that when the light is red they sleep and when the light is green they can either come out of the room, or mom or dad will come in and get them (you decide what happens when the light turns green). I recommend starting to practice with this light while they are still in the crib, that way they start to see how it works, and you build trust around this new light system before the bed transition.
What do I do when they start popping out of the room?
You are going to become a pro at explaining to your child two things that will serve you well through all of parenthood:
- Your expectations
- The consequences of not following said expectations
So, when you first move them to a toddler crib, I wouldn’t warn right away about what will happen if they come out of the room or get out of bed. Why? Because sometimes at first it doesn’t even occur to them that this is a possibility. Maybe your little one doesn’t even have that in mind and you have just given them a great idea! So… wait. Wait for it to actually happen… and THEN have a conversation about your expectation.
Expectation: You need to stay in bed all night until your light turns green. If you wake up in the night, you can hug your teddy, close your eyes and go back to sleep.
Then, explain the consequence:
Consequence: If you come out of your room, I will need to take away your teddy.
Even when you lay down the expectation and the consequence, your toddler is hard wired to TEST IT. This is where YOU need to have the discipline to follow through with what you said would happen. You can give one warning, and then immediately give the consequence. Things will very quickly unravel if your toddler knows your warnings mean nothing. You will also cause them to loose a sense of security in giving them control that they are too young to handle ie: them deciding when they go to sleep.
All of this sounds really straight forward, and it is! Yet even still, we struggle to hold the line. If you find yourself getting some curveballs from your toddler that you were not expecting and you don’t know how to handle, please reach out for help sooner rather than later. My work with toddlers has the benefit of trickling into daytime behavior improvement and is really just an amazing crash course into effective parenting that will serve you for years to come.
I hope this has been a helpful guide!