Childhood is full of exciting milestones: first tooth, first solid foods, first steps. Making the switch from a crib to a bed is another sign your child is growing up. For some parents the idea can be a bit nerve-wracking. They wonder what life will be like if their child is free to get out of bed whenever he wants…will he be roaming the halls at night? Will he ever settle down and go to sleep?
First of all, there is no rush. It usually becomes pretty clear when your child is ready for a big-boy bed. If he’s happy in the crib and not trying to jump out headfirst, then by all means, keep him in the crib. But if your child becomes an escape artist and doesn’t seem happy to be confined anymore, it might be time to move to a bed.
Here are my top 3 tips for making the change:
1. The closer your child is to age three, the better. Anything younger than two years to two-and-a-half years is a little too early in my experience. Very young children don’t have the cognitive ability to really understand the boundaries and expectations around staying in bed when they can so easily get out on their own. This can make it hard to enforce the rules and can create power struggles and other issues.
2. Items to help with the transition. A clock and a big bed. To help your child know when he can get out of bed to start the day, be sure he has a clock in his room so he knows when it’s morning and when it’s not. The other item, a big bed. I find children do so much better with this transition if they move into a twin or full size bed, not a toddler bed. If we are moving our children out of the cribs because they are getting older and bigger, it makes sense to have them sleep in beds that are actually bigger, not crib mattresses put in a different bed frames.
3. Beware of the “honeymoon” phase. Most toddlers do well with the transition until the fun wears off. Once the novelty is gone and the child gets comfortable (usually around the three-week mark) then the testing of the boundaries starts up. The key is to be prepared ahead of time so you know what to do when this happens.
What to do if your child keeps getting out of bed:
If the honeymoon has worn off, or if your child just never warmed up to the idea of a big bed at all, there are things you can do.
First, it’s important to be consistent. If your child gets out of bed and comes to find you, take him back to bed immediately. Even if he says he just needs another hug or something to eat. Don’t waver on this, or he will be hopping out of bed every five minutes to ask you for something else. Just take him back and if he does it again, give him a consequence.
You can also offer rewards to kids if they stay in bed. If you child can stay in his bed until morning, then when the clock says 7:00, they can have a prize or a treat. The rewards need to be as immediate as possible for this age group, or else they won’t be motivating at all.
Soon enough your child will become used to the idea of sleeping in a proper bed and will understand that just because there are no bars holding him in, this doesn’t mean he’s free to wander wherever he likes at bedtime. Like anything when it comes to parenting, it will take persistence and consistency on your part, but before you know it your child will be sleeping peacefully in his big-boy bed.