One of the biggest toddler milestones is also the most worrisome: the transition from a crib to a “big kid” bed. Parents worry that their toddler, freed from the confines of a crib, will wander the house at night and perhaps get hurt. Or maybe they’ll keep bouncing out of bed during the night, preventing the family from getting sleep.
Are you in that boat? Here are three tips to make the crib-to-bed transition seamless.
1. Don’t worry; be happy
When parents are anxious about the transition to a toddler bed, they can unwittingly pass on their anxiety to their child, says psychologist and mom Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.
“Children are like sponges, and they pick up on our fears and anxieties,” she says. Do your best not to transmit your nerves to your tot – talk about the new bed as an exciting new step, not a worrisome obligation.
2. Build anticipation and excitement
Toddlers are notoriously hungry for more independence and personal power, so give them some control over the change. Allow tots to pick out their new bedding or choose which toys get to come to the new bed. “My daughter was really vocal about what kind of bed she wanted and the sheets she liked,” says Jenna Monroe of Roseville. “It really helped her get excited.”
Help your child prepare for the transition by creating a “big kid bed” countdown. One to two weeks before making the switch, tell your child that he’ll be moving to a special new bed. Then, cross off the days on the calendar and talk excitedly about the big day with your child. But don’t set the date too far in advance; a buildup of several weeks could make your child anxious instead of eager.
3. Prepare for pitfalls
If your child leaves his new bed in the middle of the night – or if you’re worried that he will – install a baby gate at his bedroom door. When you hear him get up, return him to his bed promptly, every time. Once he realizes that he won’t be rewarded with parental interaction or be able to get out of his room, he’ll be more likely to stay in his bed all night long.
To help your child maintain positive associations with his new bed, never use the bed as a place for punishment or time out.
At naptime, opportunistic toddlers may capitalize on their newfound freedom by refusing to stay in bed. “Often, kids do fine with their new bed at bedtime – naps present a bigger issue,” says Lombardo. But most 2-year-olds still need a daily siesta. Enforce your tot’s naptime by creating a solid, consistent naptime ritual and keeping the bedroom very dark and quiet during naptime.
Kids in toddler beds may be more inclined to get up with the roosters. Keep your early bird in bed a longer with a special clock that tells her when it’s time to start the day.
Whatever you do, “don’t give in and allow your child to go back to the crib,” says Lombardo. Make this transition an exciting milestone for your little one, and the crib will soon be a thing of the past!
This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2015.