It’s an inevitable milestone that all toddlers must master—the transition from the crib to the big kid bed. While it’s an exciting declaration of growing independence for your little one, the thought of “unleashing” him and giving him the opportunity to move freely in and out of bed is enough to send most parents into a panic and for good reason. Teaching your toddler to stay in bed can be a lengthy, stressful experience, which can lead to power struggles and desperate negotiations to convince your child to stay in bed. With a little preparation and consistent messaging however, it may end up going more smoothly than you anticipate. Read on for five tips to set you and your child up for success.
1. Don’t rush it! While this is an exciting event, there is no need to accomplish it early. Staying in bed is truly about impulse control, and most toddlers have not learned to master their impulses until they are at least three years old. Of course, some children will be able to do it earlier, but the transition will most likely take longer and be much more frustrating if your child is younger than three.
2. Delay if there are other big life events happening! This transition can feel overwhelming to you and your child, so if there are other big changes happening in your household at the same time, like the arrival of a new baby, potty training, starting school or recent travel, hold off on the move and give your child time to get through one big change before attempting another.
3. Include your child in the planning! Toddlers have an opinion about everything; they want to be heard and to feel like they have a say in some of the decisions. Pick out two sets of sheets or two different beds that you like and can live with, and then let your child make the final decision. Ask her where she thinks her bed should go when setting up the room or let her choose from two different new nightlights. Letting her having choices in the overall set-up will help her feel more in control and ready for the big change when the time comes.
4. Purchase necessary tools for success! You will definitely want to have a bed rail (we like the extra tall and long ones) and a sleep clock like “The Good Nite Lite,” which indicate sleep and wake hours. These tools give your child another cue to refer to and depend on, which will help her resist her impulses and stay in bed.
5. Don’t say “Don’t…!” When the time comes for the big move, tell your child what you expect him to do and how you expect him to behave…not all the things he isn’t supposed to do. The minute you say, “Don’t get out of bed!” your child will be thinking about getting out of bed. Instead try saying, “We stay in our bed all night long. Lay your body down, and show Mommy how you sleep in your new bed.” All children ultimately want to please their parents, so staying positive and focused on the desired behavior lets her know what she needs to do for success.