It’s an exciting time for families when children make the transition from the crib to a “big kid” bed. However, it can also pose new challenges for parents when children choose to exercise their new acquired freedom.
In my office, I often hear stories about a child who was a perfect sleeper from infancy into toddlerhood, but now that same child is wandering into his parents’ bedroom every night.
Here are my tips for making the transition to the bed as smooth as possible:
Let your child decide when it’s time to make the move. She will be more motivated to spend the entire night in her bed if it was her idea to retire the crib. A caveat to this tip is the child who climbs out of her crib. Once this happens, it is no longer safe to have her in a crib. If you don’t have a crib that easily converts into a toddler bed or haven’t purchased a new bed for her yet, those first few nights can be spent on the crib mattress on the floor of her bedroom until you secure a bed. Many parents fear that their child will roll out of bed and onto the floor without the constraints of the crib rails. There are bedrails available that attach to the exposed side of the bed. Just be sure to look for one that meets safety standards.
Be consistent. If your child happens to venture into your room during the night, quietly walk him back to his room. Don’t get into a negotiation or a long argument. Simply say, “It bedtime and the place for you to sleep is in your bed.” Put him back there, and repeat this process calmly until he falls asleep and stays there. For the tenacious child, it can take hours the first few nights but eventually he will get the picture. If you let him come in your bed even just once, you have given him the message that it’s possible. Think of gamblers who hit the jackpot once, they will keep playing hoping that it happens again…
Be proactive. If your child comes up with a long list of needs once you have put her in bed, it’s time to be proactive. Together, before bedtime, have her make a list of her bedtime comforts. This will put her in control of the situation. Perhaps it’s a glass of water next to the bed, a trip to the bathroom, the room dimly lit, and a favorite stuffed animal in the bed. If you can anticipate all of her predetermined asks and provide them ahead of time, there will be less of a power struggle and it will minimize the back and forth once you have kissed her goodnight.
Special circumstances. If your child is sick or is suffering from nightmares, this is a time he will need comforting. It’s best to do that comforting in his room. This gives the message that you are there for support, but that the place for him to sleep is in his own room. Often I hear stories of children who go through phases where they completely melt down whenever they are left alone in their rooms. In these instances, I recommend soothing them until they fall asleep initially and then, with time as they regain their confidence, slowly start to leave a little bit earlier. For some kids, it may take a while but eventually they will feel comfortable in their rooms again.
Be patient. As children get older, it can take longer to establish a new pattern. When my daughter was 3 ½ years old (6 months after sleeping soundly every night in her own bed), she came to my bedside at 2 am on the nose. It took weeks of my husband and I bringing her back to her room for hours (and as a result walking around like zombies) before she finally got the message and stopped coming in.
It’s hard for parents when your toddler reverts back to his newborn sleep habits. Rest assured, it’s just a phase and with the proper guidance and support, he will be back to sleeping soundly in no time at all!