Parents worry that freed from the confines of the crib rails, toddlers may repeatedly hop out of bed and prevent the family from getting a restful night’s sleep — or worse yet, wander the house at night and get hurt.
For toddlers, sleeping in a regular bed all by themselves can be scary. They may feel exposed or insecure without rails.
“Set your child up for success just like you would when it comes to potty training,” said pediatrician Emma Raizman of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics Medina. “And, don’t make the transition too early. Wait until they give you signals they’re ready. Otherwise, it will become a huge battle.”
How to know when it’s time
While there’s no hard and fast age when a toddler is ready to graduate from his crib to a big-kid bed, most kids make the transition between the ages of 2 and 4.
Safety concerns are the biggest reason to make the switch. If your child is continually trying to crawl out of his crib, it’s time to say bye-bye to the crib and hello to the big-kid bed.
Many times, parents are motivated to make the transition, even if their child has shown no signs of readiness, because another sibling is on the way. If this is your situation, begin the process 2 to 3 months before the new baby is scheduled to arrive. You don’t want to give your toddler the sense that he’s being displaced.
“The biggest thing to remember is you don’t want to make a lot of transitions at once,” said Dr. Raizman. “If you’re in the midst of potty training, for example, hold off on the transition to the regular bed. It’s too much change and stress on your child at once.”
Easing the transition
If you and your child are ready to make the switch, Dr. Raizman offers tips to help make the transition a smooth one.
- Get your toddler involved: Allow your child to take some ownership of the transition. Take her shopping with you to help pick out the new bed and bedding. Personalize the space with her favorite stuffed animals. Giving her the opportunity to choose how the bed will look and feel hands her some control of the situation, not to mention gets her excited about the change.
- Practice with role-play: A few nights before the big transition, practice what it will look like with your child’s favorite stuffed animal to show them it’s not scary. Show him how to sleep with a pillow and what the bedtime routine will look like.
- Reading books is a great way to introduce the transition. Point out characters in the book that are bravely moving on to a regular bed.
- Start with naptime: Let your tot “practice” napping in his new digs to feel more comfortable with it. Once you establish naptime in the big-kid bed, try nighttime on for size.
- Keep a set bedtime routine: Make sure your child’s bedtime routine is strong and consistent before you attempt to make the transition. When it’s time to make the switch, follow that exact same ritual right down to the number of stories you read to the white-noise machine. The only change should be the actual bed. Also, if she has a comfort item she sleeps with, make sure that goes with her.
- Use a night-light: Especially if the bed is in another room, using a night-light can help ease his fears. Kids may feel more exposed without the bed rails, so making the room feel as cozy as possible with soft, filtered light can help them still feel that sense of security.
- Enforce the bedtime rules: If your child tries to climb out of bed when you leave the room, be firm and consistent. Tell her it’s bedtime and she needs to stay in bed. If necessary, calmly return your toddler to bed as many times as it takes. Keep it as boring and emotionless as possible and eventually she’ll get the point.
Change is hard — even for adults — so be sure to show empathy to your toddler. Let him know you understand it’s difficult and that you’ll be there every step of the way. Patience is everything during these major changes.
“It’s a transition and it will be difficult at first,” said Dr. Raizman. “The first 3 to 4 nights parents probably won’t get a whole lot of sleep. Just keep putting the toddler back in bed and eventually he will love it, feel grown up and good about having his own bed.”