Some kids move from cribs to beds when they are two, but for others the transition to a big-kid bed may not happen until later. That’s especially true for those sharing a family bed, it seems.
Melissa Wilkinson’s first child, Kyla, now seven, started climbing out of her crib when she was 18 months old, so they moved her into the family bed. A few months later, she moved to a toddler bed, but she didn’t want to stay there either. So Kyla’s father, Chris Wilkinson, would lie down with her at night until she fell asleep. If he tried to sneak back to his own bed, Kyla would wake and follow him there. “By that time, we had new baby Nathaniel in the family bed, so it was too crowded,” Melissa says. Most nights, Chris stayed until morning in Kyla’s toddler bed even though it wasn’t comfortable.
Sometimes the move to a big-kid bed is a simple one, but for many preschoolers, it can be challenging. Whether you are moving your child from a crib or a family bed, “finding a plan that works for the whole family is key,” says Dana Obleman, founder of Sleep Sense in Vancouver, an organization that assists parents who are struggling with sleep issues. Try some of her ideas:
1. Plan it
Time it right. If your child is content and secure in the crib, don’t be in a rush to move her to a regular bed. It’s also not a good time if you’ve just had some big changes, such as adding a new baby to your family. “And don’t expect that moving to a bed will solve a child’s sleep problems,” Obleman adds. “If your child isn’t sleeping well in a crib, moving to a bed usually makes things worse.”
2. Keep it positive
Let your child pick out new bedding and rearrange the room, and have a little celebration about moving to the new bed.
3. Talk about the rules
“Let him know that the ‘walls’ of the crib will be gone, but he still has to stay in bed,” Obleman advises.
4. Expect setbacks
“The first few weeks, the novelty of being in a bed usually keeps the child there,” says Obleman. “Then he realizes, ‘Hey, I can get out of this bed and I could go look for Mommy.’ At that point, you’ll get a little midnight visitor.” She recommends consistently (but gently) returning him to the bed.
Safety can be an issue for a child who is used to the restraining bars of the crib. You may want to start out with bed rails or a mattress on the floor if your little one is a restless sleeper.
Moving from a family bed to sleeping alone can be a challenge too, says Obleman. “I suggest parents sit beside the bed for three nights, then move the chair a bit farther away, and keep doing it until they are out of the room.” She doesn’t recommend parents lie down with a child. “You want the child to practise going to sleep on his own.”
The Wilkinson family took a different approach. Both parents found lying down to sleep with their children when they first moved into their own beds worked well. “I don’t think that when my kids are teenagers or adults I’ll say ‘I wish I’d spent less time cuddling with them,’” says Melissa. When they wanted to help Kyla learn to sleep alone, they actually moved her back into their bedroom, with a mattress on the floor beside their bed. That helped her make the transition from having a parent actually snuggled up next to her as she fell asleep.
“When Kyla was nearly six, she decided she’d like to have her own bed in her own room,” Melissa recalls. “We could see that Nathaniel would be needing a bed too before long, so we bought a set of bunk beds.” Only Kyla was allowed in the top bunk, though. (Health Canada recommends that children should be six years old before sleeping in a top bunk, and that approved guardrails should always be used.
Nathaniel, now five, sleeps in the bottom bunk. Until recently, his dad slept with him there, but Nathaniel has now decided he’s ready to sleep without him. And what’s the plan for their youngest child, 20-month-old Griffin? “I have no idea,” says Melissa. “We’ll just have to see how it goes.” Flexibility and plenty of patience are her guidelines.
As Obleman says: “When you’re dealing with toddlers and preschoolers, things take time. There’s no real quick fix.” The good news is that they do eventually figure it out—even if, like the Wilkinson kids, they all have their own paths to follow.
Should you get a toddler bed?
Many parents wonder if it’s worth purchasing one of the smaller, lower beds for their children who are ready to move out of a crib or family bed. Melissa Wilkinson says she certainly wouldn’t get one again—the small size made it uncomfortable when a parent wanted to lie down with the child, and within just a year or two, they needed to buy a bigger bed anyway.
This article was originally published on November 2010.