Transitioning My Toddler From a Crib to Bed

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I often get asked, “When can I transition my child out of the crib?”  My advice is to wait as long as you can, ideally until the child is at least three-years-old.  

The reason I always suggest waiting (if there is a choice) is because many younger toddlers do not have the impulse control to stay in their bed all night.  Research shows that children gain more impulse control between the ages of 3.5-4.  When they are closer to 3.5, they have more willpower to not go exploring in the middle of the night and be more likely to stay in their bed. 

For the crib climbers, under 2.5/3 years, there are a few tricks to keep them in the crib a little longer.  Keep in mind, the most important factor is safety first.

  • Lower the crib mattress to its lowest setting.
  • Remove toys and bumpers from the crib so your toddler can avoid using them as a step stool.
  • -If your crib has a taller side, face the taller side out and the shorter side against a wall.
  • Use a sleep sack to prevent climbing

If you have a climber:

  • Keep it boring:  Do not engage in conversation.  Simply say, “Stay in your crib”, keeping emotion out of your voice, and put the child back in their crib.  If the child is getting a lot of attention after climbing out, they will continue.
  • Catch the child before the act:  If you have a video monitor and see they are about to climb out, speak into the monitor and say “Stay in your crib.”  You can also sit by the door, where they can’t see you, and if they put their foot on the railing, say “Stay in your crib” in a firm neutral voice.
  • Keep motivation low:  Bringing your child into bed with you after they climb out or laying in bed with them/next to them until they fall asleep will not motivate them to stay in the crib.  Once this starts, it is hard for the child to not want to continue this.

In several instances, the child has climbed out of the crib before the age of three, so some families will need to make the transition earlier.  Crib Mattress Height

There are two types of crib climbers:  the dangerous ones or the just for fun climbers.  If your child is jumping out of their crib and it does not look safe, there is not much of an option other than moving them to a toddler or big kid bed.  If there is a safety concern, move them right away.

The child who jumps out for fun can turn it into a game.  If you are spending a decent chunk of time at bedtime or nap time returning your little one back to their crib, this has most likely become a game for them.  When it is time for bed, children will take any type of attention they can get, whether negative or positive.  If mom is getting an annoyed tone in her voice, the child is still getting attention, so the behavior will most likely continue.  I suggest making a little nest of blankets and a pillow in the corner of your child’s room and if they jump out of the crib once, they can choose to sleep in their “nest” on the floor.  If this is the case, minimize distractions and possible safety hazards in their bedroom so it becomes boring.  Keep in mind, this is a learning process, and your child will eventually learn that the floor is just not as comfortable as their crib.

When you do make the transition, there tends to be a honeymoon period after a child moves to a big kid bed for a few weeks, and it seems like it will be smooth sailing.  Often times, when the honeymoon ends, an after tuck in or middle of the night visitor may be in your future.  If this happens, simply walk the child back into their bedroom with limited interaction.  In other words, try to be as boring as possible so the child is not as motivated to keep seeking attention in the middle of the night.

In the end, you can try these tips to encourage your toddler to stay in their crib longer, but you may not always be able to control the outcome.  The transition to a toddler bed or big kid bed can be done!  It just may take a little more time and patience when they are on the younger end. There have been many successful sleepers who transitioned out of their crib earlier, but if your child is still in their crib under the age of 3, don’t fix it if it’s not broken!

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