Transitioning a child from a crib to a toddler bed.
One evening, five minutes after I put my 2,5 year old girl in bed, as usual, I heard her steps next to our living room and saw her, in her 2 feet sleeping-sack next to me. I could not believe it, that she actually jumped out of her crib and slowly walked into another room. Trying to hide my surprise I walked her back to her room without saying a word, hugged her briefly and put her in bed again. We were lucky that night was okay, but when the next evening came, she did the same thing, but louder and with more anger. I was surprised again knowing that she was sleep-trained around 10 month of age and she has been sleeping very well and independently for almost 2 years now…But I soon realised these things happen because kids tests their parents’ limits all over again, in different ways, all the way until teenage-hood. 😉
The first step is to be aware of the situation, observe it and acknowledge it, try to find an explanation for it or even look for the root cause of it. Then, once you ruled out any traumatic experience which could generate such a reaction with your kid, you need to be firm and confident, warm and affectionate when setting healthy boundaries for your toddler. Remember it is absolutely normal for toddlers to start having fears after 2,5 years of age when their imagination is running wild, but also that they are very strong-willed and can be very stubborn and persuasive when they want something. So, we need to be the grown-ups in this equation to help them get what they need instead of only what they wish.
At the same time you need to watch out for your kiddo’s safety. If the child can get out of its crib easily without any harm or risk of injury, you have the option to be creative and find another way to prevent her from doing it. You could lower the mattress as much as possible or even put it on the floor with the crib around it in a safely manner or give her a sleep sack without legs which could prevent her from climbing out. Or, depending on the child’s age and height, you can decide to move him or her into a toddler bed.
So, when is the right time to move your child into a toddler bed?
Some parents look at the kid’s signs like their verbal communication or wish to move to a bigger bed since they are already “big kids”. Some other parents try to postpone this move until their kid is about 3 years old since they have all been sleeping well in their own beds for quite some time.
Nevertheless, both groups of parents agree that when the child is big enough to climb out of their crib, it’s about time to consider transitioning to a toddler bed.
I must say it’s not easy to find the right moment for this transition and it would be wise to analyse the whole situation, both the kid and the adults to make the best decision.
On the one hand, it might not be the best choice to let the child decide upon this move since they would normally find a big bed interesting, new and fun, even if they are not ready to stay in it.
On the other hand, we should look at our own parenting style and think rationally if our child can actually benefit from this move.
Most experts recommend transition from a crib to a toddler bed only after the child turns 3. The main reason is because until around this age children lack impulse control, meaning that no matter how much we try to tell them or convince them to stay in bed, they cannot help it and they will be more tempted to get out of it and walk into parents’ room. In terms of sleep, that is detrimental both for the child and for the parents, especially if it happens several times during the night.
“Before the age of 3, many children do not have the behavioural control or understanding to stay within the imaginary boundaries of a bed, and it’s not fair to expect them to stay in a bed when it’s beyond their abilities,” says Dr. Jodi Mindell, Director of Graduate Psychology at Saint Joseph’s University and member of the Board of Directors of renown sleep institutions in the US like the National Sleep Foundation or the Paediatric Sleep Council.
Benefits of crib sleeping
Dr. Mindell was also involved in a research study done in 2018 on approximate 2000 toddlers from Western countries which has shown that crib sleeping is associated with:
- an earlier bedtime,
- shorter time to fall asleep,
- fewer night awakenings,
- longer stretches of time asleep,
- increased night-time sleep duration and
- decreased bedtime resistance and sleep problems.
In other words, the more we can postpone the transition to a toddler bed, in a safely manner, the better.
What if I move my kid into a toddler bed too soon?
There are many parents who would rather move their kid into a toddler bed way sooner than 3 years of age, like from 16 months or 2 years old. Most of the time this is done because the child still has problems sleeping independently in their crib, so they are often taken into the family bed. Or because many parents look at the cot as a “cage” or a restrictive area for their child and therefore kids must hate it.
“That’s absolutely not true! Little ones actually really like small spaces, it’s comforting to them!”, says Dr. Lisa Meltzer, Professor of Paediatrics at National Jewish Health and Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a Sleep Expert for the Paediatric Sleep Council.
There are also some children who are more resilient and compliant when it comes to these changes, but they are just the exception. Most toddlers find this transition challenging and if it’s not done at the right moment or using the proper technique, it can significantly disturb their sleep.
Downsize of toddler bed (if done too soon)
- It can lead to struggles at bedtime
- It can shorten the deep sleep during the first part of the night – very important for children growth, memory and mental development
- It can reinforce a pattern which is not entirely recommended for a toddler – co-sleeping – affecting his self-esteem on the long run
- It can lead to early morning wake-ups due to over-tiredness
- It can cause grumpiness during daytime
- It can reduce the child appetite during the day
- It can also lead to behavioural issues since the child feels less secure due to lack of healthy boundaries and natural consequences
- It can reiterate sleep deprivation for parents who will not function at their best during the day, including their attitude and patience towards their children
However, with the right technique, tools and guidance we can help our kids overcome this milestone of moving to a toddler bed with confidence and care while getting the restorative, quality sleep their growing brain and body needs.
Should you need support to go through this phase and learn more about toddler sleep strategies, do not hesitate to contact me.
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