Surviving the Switch: How to Transfer to a Big Kid Bed with Simplicity

Be still, mama, be still. Mom and children.

Two questions often dominate any conversation with toddler parents concerning sleep:

When do we transfer to a big-kid bed? This question is then immediately followed by:

How do we move them to a big-kid bed?

If I had to guess, you're probably wondering because A) your kid sleeps excellently, and you don't want to ruin it or B) your kid doesn't sleep well, and you may be hoping that a new bed will do the trick.

If you most relate to choice "B," then my answer to "When?" is NOT NOW.

Fortunately, there is just no reason to rush to get your toddler out of their crib (unless you are expecting, of course). I know what you're thinking… What on earth will people think if I have a three-year-old in the crib? As a parent who's received that look, I know! Trust me though.

Don't be afraid that the longer your child is in a crib, they more attached they will be. It's not any harder to transition at a later age. I think it's just the opposite, much easier. I would prefer to make a big transition with a child who can communicate at least SLIGHTLY effectively. If possible, wait until they can comprehend what is about to happen and why and then use their language to repeat it. In my experience, children can begin to do this around three years old.

Also, if you're about to start sleep training, take it slowly and keep the crib for now. Significant changes are hard for little people, so start from a place of comfort and familiarity. Once your child learns to sleep well, those skills will transfer to the new bed or space. Also, since we are talking about toddlers, it is safe to mention that these major changes are easier when they aren't cranky. If your toddler is sleep deprived now, changing everything about their sleep environment at once will only make things worse. Tired toddlers aren't exactly fun. A now cranky toddler who doesn't want to sleep in the new princess or superhero bed will only result in misery for all involved.

So, what if they ARE sleeping well or you need the crib for a sibling?

Step number one is preparation. Talk to your toddler. Okay, TRY to talk to your toddler. Surprises aren't fun unless ice cream or toys are involved, so keep them in the loop.  And, why not include some ice cream? Have a treat and talk about what's going on. Keep the chat short and straightforward though. Too many details or too much chatter will only bring stress. 

When it's time to make the trip to pick out a bed, hardware, or bedding, take your toddler. It can be a special outing. Maybe they like specific sheets or pillows. We all know toddlers want to be independent creatures, so anything that MIGHT please you both is worth letting them choose. It definitely helps if they are exciting to sleep with Fancy Nancy or the Paw Patrol.

Having your little around for the big assembly may sound like fun, but I might consider an equally entertaining alternative to distract them. When arranging the room to accommodate the bed, keep the changes as minimal as possible.

Speaking of change, try to keep things the same for night time routine. Yes, your kiddo will be excited (or maybe not) about the new bed. But, consistency with their routine is paramount. No new food, no extra treats, no extra chat about the bed. While statements about being a "big girl" or "big boy" are tempting, resist the urge. Toddlers want to grow up one minute and be a baby the next. They aren't quite sure what they are, but we already knew that.

So now that your toddler's in bed and the light's off, there are a few different scenarios that can play out.

  1. Scenario 1 - You don't hear from them until morning. Now what? You celebrate and celebrate some more. You are lucky!

  2. Scenario 2 - Your little one seems to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, things change. Leaving their room, playing, or calling for mama to come back in several times a night begins.

  3. Scenario 3 - There's no wait! The games begin the very first night.

So, what's a parent to do? In either of the latter situations, offer a warning, let them know the consequence, then follow through if, and when it's needed.

By now, you've probably already found your "go to" successful consequence. Keep that in place! If you haven't found something that works, I find that closing the door, taking a lovie away, or removing a nightlight for a few moments tend to do the trick.

Each time you hear another call or see their sweet face, increase the time of the consequence. Lovie can stay out a little longer and longer.

Now, mama, if you're holding on to the crib because it's the final "baby" item you still use, I can relate. I'm currently in denial that my babies are aging at all. I can assure you that when the time comes for us, I'll be sipping wine in another room and let my husband disassemble our crib. But if you are afraid of the change, don't be.

Talk to your toddler, explaining things on their terms in a light and simple way. Set the expectations for the nights and enforce the rules. If you didn't have ice cream before, go now. Everyone deserves it, especially you, mama!

Now, we both know that the chances are that your toddler is going to test the waters. Toddlers are crafty and inquisitive.  So, what's my biggest piece of advice? Stay firm. Now is not the time to allow bending of the rules. I cannot stress the important of consistency enough.  My second biggest piece of advice? CELEBRATE! Let your kiddo know that when they stay in bed all night that you'll celebrate the next day. I'm not a major fan of bribery (not that I haven't done it!), but I love to celebrate.  Put a candle in the muffin or sprinkles in the pancakes. Head to Dunkin. It doesn't matter what it is but make it special. Then celebrate after a few more days. Have some fireworks left over? Use them! We want our children to make good choices, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to celebrate and be proud.

Now, if your toddler isn't sleeping well in the crib, or if the big-kid transition isn't going so well, I can help! Schedule a FREE 15-minute call, and we'll have you celebrating in no time.