From Crib to Bed

How to know when your child is ready - and manage the big transition

Sherri Schmidt and her husband were enjoying a lazy morning in bed. Their three-year-old daughter, Jessica, was playing in her younger sister’s bedroom, and since Madison, 21 months, was safely contained in her crib, Schmidt wasn’t concerned. Yet when a suspicious hush descended, it seemed worth checking out.

“There stood Jessica with a large container of baby powder over her sister’s head,” recalls Schmidt, who lives in Oshawa, Ont. The younger girl was coated in powder — as was the crib, the dresser and every other surface in sight. (This is a perfect example of why many experts warn against keeping powder around: Little ones who get their hands on it may accidentally breathe it into their lungs.) But the biggest surprise of all was that Madison was standing not in her crib, but in the middle of the room.

Until that moment, Schmidt hadn’t known her toddler could climb out of the crib. It was a wake-up call she heeded without hesitation. She and her husband took the convertible crib apart to clean it, and reassembled it into a daybed for Jessica, while Madison was reassigned to her sister’s toddler bed. She took to it without a fuss.

Most children, like Madison, move to a bed between the ages of 18 months and 2½ years, but there are lots of exceptions. “There isn’t a right time, other than reading the signs of readiness in your child,” says Christina Rinaldi, a child psychologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Experts agree that although a new baby on the way is a common reason to reclaim the crib, it shouldn’t be the only reason. And the transition, Rinaldi advises, “shouldn’t be rushed.”

Signs of the time

Not sure whether it’s time to switch from crib to bed? Watch for these signals:

Your toddler manages a jailbreak. A crib your kid can climb out of is a potentially dangerous place.

He’s straining the mattress springs. Some kids simply outgrow their cribs. That’s one of the reasons Michelle Archer of Regina put her son, Connor, to sleep on a mattress on the floor when he was just 16 months old; she worried her rambunctious boy, who weighed in at a solid 14.5 kilograms (35 pounds), might dislodge the mattress and hurt himself.

The potty calls. “If they’re starting toilet training and starting to go to the washroom on their own, then obviously the crib is a barrier,” Rinaldi says.

And what if your three-year-old seems perfectly content to stay cooped up in his crib?

As long as you’re as comfortable with it as he is, there’s no reason to turf him out before he’s ready. Just bide your time — eventually he will want to supersize his sleeping space.

Some children, like Madison, take the transition from crib to big-kid bed totally in stride. But the move isn’t as easy for every child. Some will experience snags like sudden sleep disruptions — and that’s perfectly normal for them. So it’s important to consider your child’s disposition and, if necessary, take steps well in advance to prepare her for the move:

Drop a not-so-subtle hint or two. Talk about the big-kid bed that has taken up recent residence in cousin Chloe’s room, or comment on how much your child has grown: “Oh, my, you’re getting so big for this crib!” Chats like these prepare your child for the change and can also give mom and dad a forecast of how junior feels about the move.

Go shopping together. Look at big-kid beds in catalogues or department stores. Picking out her new pillows and bed linens together may also get your kid excited (see Retail Therapy).

Get a fix on a floor plan. Some children will adjust more easily if the bed is set up in the same spot as the crib. While you may be hankering for an extreme bedroom makeover, that might be a little too much transformation for your toddler to cope with. “We have to be cautious balancing the old and the new,” advises Tanya Wight, an early childhood education instructor in Corner Brook, NL. “Toddlers are struggling with a need for security along with growing independence. Everything becomes really overwhelming and they need that sense of familiarity to feel secure in a new place.”

Keep the room calm. Eliminate any obstacles to sleep that may be lurking in your child’s bedroom. If it’s stuffed with toys, your child will have lots to do whenever she gets out of bed. “If kids think this is a playroom, it can be more difficult for them to make the transition to a relaxation and sleep mode,” Rinaldi says. Consider setting up a separate space for play.

Introduce the bed in stages. Some children put up more resistance than others. So instead of kicking them out of the crib cold turkey, try introducing them to the bed for naps only. Or use the new space as a reading nook for bedtime books, then stick to the status quo for sleep time. The idea is to start including the new bed in the old bedtime routine. In addition, Wight suggests making a book to document the occasion. “Take pictures of their crib and big bed, or paste pictures from magazines or computer clip art, and create a little personalized storybook.”

Model a laid-back mood for your child. “If the parents are anxious or stressed out about the transition,” Rinaldi cautions, “then that already sets the stage for the way it might go.”

Adjusting to life AC (after crib)

You may discover that the little angel who used to fall asleep on her own, and slumber solidly through the night, now cries at bedtime and wakes every hour. Be assured these are common reactions to the big bedtime move, and the trauma (or is that drama?) won’t last forever. However, it is a good idea to decide ahead of time what you’re prepared to do to help your child sleep. Will you lie with him at bedtime? Will you sing him back to sleep in the middle of the night? “You need to be careful not to set up routines that you’re not willing to maintain,” Wight says.

Aurora, Ont., mom Nadia Lamothe decided it was important for her son, Malcolm, to keep to his usual sleep routine when introducing a new “big big butt” (Malcolm’s way of saying big-boy bed). “We tried really hard not to fall asleep with him, since he had been falling asleep on his own for over a year. We didn’t want to take a step back,” she says. Lamothe and her husband found that making this decision together at the outset helped them stick to it when times got rough.

Sudden night waking may be a disheartening development to a tired parent, but that’s usually temporary too. And remember, your child is no longer a newborn: Often, he simply needs a comforting touch to settle back to sleep. “Yes, it is exhausting for parents to come and do that,” Rinaldi concedes, but a quick visit reassures him “Mom and Dad are around.” Familiar crib items like a stuffed toy or favourite blanket can also provide comfort.

How long should you expect to trek between your child’s room and yours at 2 a.m.? Wight says the total transition usually takes at least a month. “Planning in advance,” she says, “and not rushing it are really key ideas.”

A shopping expedition may be just the thing to convince a child who’s a little reluctant that getting a big-kid bed is a good move. “Giving your child a choice of pillows and covers is a good way to get her involved and interested,” says Edmonton child psychologist Christina Rinaldi. “She thinks, ‘This is something I was part of.’”

Just keep your eye on the bottom line: After shelling out for sheets, curtains and paint, Aurora, Ont., mom Nadia Lamothe reports, “It ended up costing a fortune to decorate Malcolm’s room.” By the time you’ve scooped up the bedding and all those cute coordinating accessories, your credit card may be ready for a time out.

Convertible Cribs: Are They Worth the Money?

For multi-tasking parents, the concept of convertible cribs is appealing. These transformers can be reconfigured into toddler beds, daybeds or double beds as your child grows.

The downside, of course, is that versatility comes with a fatter price tag, making a convertible crib worth the investment only if your family can actually use the additional bed styles. Models that convert into a toddler or daybed, but nothing bigger, are not a great buy. “You’re paying for a really small bed frame when you’re going to have to get a twin eventually,” points out Regina mom Michelle Archer. In the same fashion, forking out for a toddler bed after paying separately for a crib may be money down the drain. It may look cute, but that Minnie Mouse mini-bed will be history in a matter of months. On the pro side, a crib that morphs into a double can serve your child into her teen years, and also works for parents and kids who want to co-sleep long-term. (Keep in mind you will need a double mattress to fit the reconfigured frame.)

Whether you decide to purchase a convertible crib, or a separate crib and big-kid bed, do look for furniture that you can use for many years. The key is to anticipate your family’s individual needs — as best you can, anyway, without the benefit of a crystal ball.

By Randi Chapnik Myers:

As your toddler grows, the mattress beneath him becomes increasingly important. It’s got to be durable (have you checked out the price of bedding lately?) and comfortable (lumps, sags and too-firm surfaces can disrupt the deep sleep young bodies need). These pointers will help you become a mattress-savvy shopper — and help your child dream in peace.

DON’T assume you can pass a used mattress down the line. You may be passing down a problem.
DO keep track of the age of your child’s mattress. After eight years, it may be ready to retire.

DON’T simply buy the most inexpensive mattress you can find.
DO look for a 10-year warranty, which indicates quality. And make sure the bed has a posture board or adequate slat support; otherwise, the mattress will sag, causing back problems.

DON’T go it alone.
DO take your child to a reputable store with at least 30 mattresses on display. Kick off your shoes and lie together on each bed you’re considering.

DON’T let kids treat mattresses like trampolines.
DO regularly check for visible signs of wear and tear.

DON’T forget your child is growing.
DO pay attention to complaints of stiff or sore muscles. Heavier bodies strain mattresses and require upgraded support.

Even if you have taken steps in the past to make your child’s bedroom safe, it’s important to re-evaluate the environment when your kid makes the move from crib to bed. “At that age, they’re more mobile and they can get into things they couldn’t get into before,” points out Samantha Wilson, president of Kidproof, a national child safety organization based in Surrey, BC. To keep your child out of trouble:

• Ensure that furniture is anchored to walls.

• Window-blind cords should be out of reach.

• Install window guards so windows can’t be opened more than a few inches, and keep furniture well away from them.

• Prevent falls out of bed by using side rails that come standard with toddler beds, or purchase rails for bigger beds. “Putting the mattress on the floor is another option,” says Tanya Wight, an early childhood education instructor in Corner Brook, NL. “It gives a sense of security not only for the child, but for the mom and dad as well.”

• Nix locked bedroom doors and doorknob covers. These may seem like smart strategies for confining your wandering wee one to her room, but Wilson says a child could become trapped in a house fire. “They need to be able to get in and out in an emergency.” A better idea: Install a gate to block the bedroom doorway, which prevents your child from wandering into a smoke-filled hallway until a parent or other adult can take her to safety.

• Exterior doors should have double locks to prevent kids from slipping outside while you slumber.

• Don’t ditch that baby monitor! “It can alert you when your little one is up and roaming,” Wilson says.

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