Moving Out of the Crib

If your child is between the ages of 18 months to 3 ½ years, she may be ready to make the move from her crib to a big kid bed. Experts say not to rush it; moving to a bed is a big transition that can result in new insecurities in your child.  If the move is made too soon, there may be unexpected consequences, such as the “jack in the box” effect, a toddler popping out of bed every 15 minutes.  How can parents tell when the timing is right?  Promedica Physicians Dr. Christine Stahle, MD of Arrowhead Pediatrics in Maumee, along with Dr. Colleen Olson of Mercy family Physicians in Maumee, offer some guidelines. 

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The best time is probably when they are ready to ask for it themselves, either verbally, or through clear signs including “jumping out of the crib, being ready to use the toilet at night, and asking for a big kid bed,” Dr. Stahle advises. On the flip side, “multiple night awakenings, wanting to eat or cuddle with parents, and a perfect sleep routine,” all indicate that a child is not ready to make the transition.

Dr. Olson agrees, advising parents to keep children in the crib as long as possible. “Make sure to adjust the crib mattress to the lowest position possible. If they are not climbing out and risking injury, they may even sleep well in a crib until they are 3 years old!”

My son, just shy of 3, showed no signs of wanting to move to a bed until recently. He was sleeping 12-13 hours every night, and as I highly value my own sleep, I was in no hurry to shake things up. One morning, I heard him crying, which was unusual, so I immediately went to his room to see what was wrong. I opened the door, and was startled to find him standing right in front of me; he had climbed out of his crib. The dreaded day was here. Now what?

Don't Drop the Routine

“If your child cries at night, try not to rush in to provide comfort.  Give them at least 5 minutes to comfort themselves and fall back to sleep on their own.  If they continue to cry, go in and soothe without picking the child up, but try not to stay longer than 1-2 minutes.  Avoid taking them to bed with you,” Dr. Mullen cautions.

Dr. Olson adds, “I advise to keep a strict bedtime routine and make it clear that they need to stay in the bed until it is morning and someone comes to get them up.  If they get out of bed then a parent should quietly/calmly return them to bed…as many times as they get out of bed throughout the night. Once they return to bed the parent should use kind words praising them for staying in bed. After a few nights this will typically reinforce the action that is expected of them.” 

My son’s transition happened to coincide with the onset of a nasty virus, which made it impossible to leave him.  His throat was so sore, he would wake every hour crying, and need to be coerced back to sleep. At times the only option was to bring him into our bed, or no one would get any rest.  As soon as I knew he was feeling better, it was time to play hard ball.  Following the above advice, I explained that he must stay in the bed by himself all night, and that I would not come get him until morning. I had been teaching him that there are consequences for his actions, good or bad, and I used this as an opportunity to reinforce that lesson. I promised a “surprise” would be waiting for him when he woke up, if he stayed in bed all night (I stocked up on $1-$2 toys for this purpose).  This worked surprisingly well, and by the third night (post-illness) he was staying in his bed all night, very proud of himself for this accomplishment.

Stay Safe & Sound

Always toddler-proof the room, and make sure the new bed has safety rails. “If toddlers are getting out of bed make sure there is nothing they could fall on in the dark (use a nightlight), place a gate on their bedroom door as well as at the top of the stairs,” Dr. Olson advises.

Remove anything dangerous from the room.  For us, that meant the book shelf and changing table were out (alternatively, furniture can also be anchored to the walls). Instead of gates, we used toddler-proof door covers to prevent our son from roaming the house at night.

For added success, try to make the transition fun and let your child have some control, whether that means picking out the bed and new sheets, reading a book about it together, or giving them the choice of where they want to sleep, crib or bed. Toddlers love making decisions, and letting them be in charge, even a little, can keep them enthusiastic about the process.

Tips for a Safe and Sound Transition

  • Leave the crib in the room for a week or two and give your toddler the choice of where to sleep.
  • Always toddler-proof the room, and make sure the new bed has safety rails to prevent falls.
  • Involve your child in the process- let him pick out new sheets and even choose their new bed.
  • Talk about the move to a big kid bed ahead of time- read a book about it together.
  • Make it fun!  Turn it into an exciting new adventure and be enthusiastic.
  • If your toddler gets out of bed, don’t react. Just put him back in it right away.