Parenting: When to put your toddler in a bed

November 5, 2010

After all---they sleep 12 hours in it (finally!) they can't get out of it (without your help that is) and they sleep 12 hours in it.

Three weeks into parenting, you fantasize about it but seriously doubt you'll ever see a full night sleep again. Then it happens…and you want to forget just how exhausted you were the first few or 8 months of life. So to think that now you have to start thinking about a transition that may disrupt that wonderful milestone you worked so hard to achieve?

It's frightening.

You realize you'll do anything to delay it. But the hard truth is, that little munchkin is getting too big for that crib and it's a good idea to start early enough so the transition isn't as difficult as not sleeping for 3 months straight (although that may very well be in the cards AGAIN).

There are several baby and parenting websites that claim the average age to transition a toddler from a crib to a bed is between 18 months and 2 and 3 years old. Initially, I thought the sooner, the better - just get the transition over with and get back to sleeping. But after talking to our pediatrician about when to make the switch, he told me 18 months was a bit early. Ah..a common theme in parenthood---a small window of opportunity to get things right. You do it too soon you're in trouble, you do it too late you're in even more trouble.

But I am taking his advice and delaying the conversion of the crib to the "big girl bed". Apparently 2 years old is the right age (albeit not for everyone but I'm speaking in general terms here). At 2, there is a good chance your toddler will want to give up the crib and can actually verbalize it. In addition---by 2 the middle of the night wake-ups have been kicked once and for all---so you don't have to worry about your 18 month old roaming the halls at 2 am looking for a play date.

So how do you do it?

According to Deborah Lin-Dyken a pediatric sleep disorders expert who writes for ---these are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

To ease the transition, put your toddler's new bed in the same place his crib used to be. If you're using a twin bed, you may not want to make an immediate switch to grown-up sheets and blankets that are tucked in. Your child may find it soothing to continue to sleep with his old crib blanket, even if it's too small. Don't forget to put up a guardrail to prevent your newly liberated toddler from falling out of bed.

Get your toddler excited about having a "big-kid bed" by taking him with you to pick it out, if you're buying it new, or by emphasizing its previous owner if that person is someone your child knows. For example: "This was Cousin Petey's bed and now it's yours! You're almost as big as him now!" Let your toddler shop with you for new sheets featuring his favorite characters, and encourage him to show his "big-kid bed" to visiting friends and family.

Another tactic, although it requires a little more work, is to throw a "big-kid bed" party. Choose a date to unveil the new bed, and talk up the event a week in advance. On the big day, have a party and invite friends and grandparents.

Another strategy is the use of specific "toddler beds". They use a crib mattress, but look more like a regular bed. Many come with built-in guardrails, and some are made in very appealing themes and shapes, such as cars, trains and pink four-poster beds.

If you find that you've made the switch too soon and your toddler is upset, don't give up right away. Encourage your child to try out the bed. If he's still distraught after a few days, bring the crib back.

Some toddlers simply aren't ready for a bed. It takes a certain amount of cognitive development for your child to understand that a bed has imaginary boundaries that he must stay within. If you find that your great sleeper all of a sudden takes a long time to fall asleep at night, gets out of bed many times or wanders around the house, he's probably not ready for his own bed. As with potty-training, sometimes it's worth taking a step back and bringing back the diapers - or in this case, the crib - and trying again later. Just be sure you don't present the reappearance of the crib as a step backward in development or a punishment.

Good luck with the transition and don't forget to throw a celebration for yourself after transition is over!

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