One of the biggest hurdles when transitioning a toddler from crib to bed is generally not getting your toddler to go to bed in the new big-kid bed, but getting him or her to stay in the bed at night. Some experts say that a toddler that won’t stay in bed at night is simply not ready for a big kid bed. I’d say those experts have never dealt with a toddler. If every kid that wouldn’t stay in bed at night was put back in a crib to give it more time, we’d have teens in cribs.
So what are some signs my toddler might not be ready to go from crib to bed?
Your toddler shows no interest in a bigger bed. If you toddler still prefers his/her crib to the toddler bed and hasn’t outgrown it this could be a sign it’s not time. You could simply keep both beds and let your toddler choose when the right time is.
Your toddler wasn’t able to climb from his/her crib. One of the biggest signs a child is ready to graduate to a big-kid bed is climbing out of the crib. If your toddler isn’t doing this he/she may not be ready and the transition may not be necessary yet either.
Your child does not self soothe. If you toddler won’t go back to sleep when he or she wakes at night, he/she is not ready to lose the crib.
These may or may guarantee that your child isn’t ready. It’s really more a matter of parental intuition. You know your child better than anyone; if the crib isn’t posing a danger and is still large enough, there is no reason to transition unless you feel your child is ready. Note however, that transitioning from crib to bed should be done before potty training. Big changes are best done one at a time and to get to the potty your child will need to be able to get out of bed easily and safely.
If my toddler is ready for the big transition how do I keep him or her in bed at night?
First, recognize that this isn’t a rare problem. Many toddlers abuse their new found freedom and become night owls when they transition to a cage-less sleeping quarters. The important thing is to create a plan of attack on this unwanted behavior and to be consistent with that plan.
Make it worth their while. Toddlers respond very well to praise and positive reinforcement. One excellent way to encourage your toddler to stay in his/her bed at night is to create a reward system outside of your excited praise in the morning. A simple way to do this a sticker chart. You could offer a sticker for every night your child stays in bed and have a certain number of stickers earn a prize. You can create a double incentive by making this prize bed time related. For instance, 10 stickers could equate to a new teddy bear, or 20 stickers new sheets.
Set boundaries. Some toddlers wander at night simply because they don’t understand their new bed has boundaries just like their crib. You can try getting toddler roll bars, but generally ‘cool’ boundaries work better. For example, you could build a colorful tent around your child’s new bed, or use birthday party streamers to decorate a boundary around the bed.
Don’t support the habit. When your child does wander simply pick him/her up and put them back in bed. Don’t read stories, offer snacks, cuddle or offer attention. As toddlers also crave attention by giving it to them you reinforce their getting out of bed. Also don’t allow your toddler to crawl into your bed and go to sleep simply because you’re tired. By allowing this you teach your child its okay to switch beds at night. Once your toddler is fully transitioned an occasional crash with mom and dad is okay, but avoid it at the beginning.
What if nothing works to keep my toddler in bed at night?
If you try everything and nothing works, your toddler just might not be ready. Go ahead and bring that crib back for awhile and try again later.
You may also find helpful:
Toddler Night Owl:What to Do About a Toddler Who Stays Up All Night
Handling Negative Influences on Your Child
No Night Lights for Kids Under Two, and Creative Ideas There After
How to get my toddler to stay in bed?
Dealing with late night waking