In my previous post, I discussed some of the common reasons for moving your child from a crib to a bed. In this post, I will talk about ways to ease the transition and (hopefully) avoid the most frequent pitfalls families experience.
Begin preparing your child for the transition a few days in advance, by explaining that soon, she will sleep in a “big girl” bed instead of her crib. If you are buying a new bed, allow her to accompany you when you make the purchase, and to observe or participate in the assembly process. I do not recommend allowing your child to decide which bed to purchase (unless it is a simple either/or choice between two beds). Too much choice, or choice that isn’t age-appropriate, can be overwhelming to a young child, and may cause her to feel insecure in her new bed. Instead, you might allow her to choose a special item, such as a decorative cushion or a stuffed toy. Show her how to make her bed, as this will instil a sense of pride and responsibility.
If your child is moving to an entirely new bed (as opposed to having the crib converted to a bed), it’s always a good idea to leave the crib in her bedroom, assembled, until the transition has been successfully completed. Some children may need a few days to adjust, going back and forth between the crib and the bed. For other children, the mere presence of the crib can be helpful in enforcing limits set by the parents.
Don’t be fooled into believing that novelty beds or sheets will have any impact whatsoever on your child’s willingness to go to bed, remain in bed, or not pee the bed. Believe me, when your child wakes at three o’ clock in the morning and contemplates wandering into your bedroom, she is not thinking about how awesome it is to sleep in her Dora bed, and how she should just stay there instead. Unless you are really in love with the look of that Lightning McQueen bed, or those Thomas sheets, just stick to stuff that is durable and safe, and that you can stand to look at for the next few years.
A few days before your child transitions to his bed, decide what nighttime behaviours you can or can’t live with long-term, and use those as a guideline to determine what the limits will be. It is a lot easier to set and enforce limits from day one, than to have to make changes later because a behaviour that seemed cute in the beginning has become inconvenient or annoying to you.
Will your child be required to remain in his bed for the entire night, or can he get out of bed as long as he remains in his room? Is he free to leave his room when he wakes in the morning, or must he remain there until a certain time, or until a parent comes to get him? Will he be required to fall asleep alone, or will somebody lie with him each night until he falls asleep? Can he come into your room and crawl into your bed during the night? Is he allowed to play on his bed? Jump on his bed? Does he need to make his own bed each morning?
There are no right or wrong answers — only what is right for your family — but remember that whatever habits are established in those first few nights will become immutable “toddler law.”
When Oliver moves to a bed, he will be required to fall asleep on his own at night, just as he has been doing in his crib since the age of six months. He will also be required to remain in his bedroom until a set time each morning, barring circumstances such as nightmares or illness. We will most likely use a Gro-Clock or similar visual aid to help him know when it is okay to come out of his room.
I personally don’t recommend insisting that a child remain in bed, as it is very difficult to enforce this with any level of consistency, and without it turning into a game. Instead, the room should be child-proofed and the child allowed to get out of bed and entertain himself within the confines of the bedroom. If, however, you have more than one child, and your children share a room, you may have to have different rules to prevent siblings from disturbing one another’s sleep.
When it comes to keeping a child in his bedroom, I am a big fan of baby gates, though some parents may disagree with this strategy or find it harsh. I like baby gates because they:
a) Remove the onus from the child to exercise a level of self-control that may not be developmentally appropriate;
b) Allow the child to see and hear what is going on outside the bedroom, so the child does not feel cut off from the rest of the household (a closed or locked bedroom door, on the other hand, can be very scary and isolating);
c) Allow parents to remain calm and supportive, since they are not having to physically enforce a limit; and
d) Prevent the “game” of having to lead a child back to his room dozens — or potentially hundreds — of times during the night.
If you use the gate preventatively, rather than waiting for problems to arise, it will not be perceived as punitive; rather, it will just be part of “the way things are.”
Having worked through some pretty difficult toddler bed debacles with my clients, I must admit that I am slightly dreading transitioning Oliver out of his crib. Bedtime and overnights are so easy right now! But I also know that if we prepare in advance, and do all of the hard work upfront, we are unlikely to have issues in the long run.