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Big Kid Bed, Here I Come

A no-tears guide to moving your child from the crib to a toddler bed

Toddlers — and their milestones — move at the speed of light. Before you know it, your child is speaking in sentences, running, jumping and building teetering block towers. One of the biggest milestones is among the most worrisome: the transition from a crib to a “big-kid bed.”

Parents fret that their toddler, freed from the crib’s confines, will tumble to the floor, wander the house in the wee hours or bounce out of bed at the crack of dawn. “We were concerned that the boys could now get up on their own or fall out of bed,” confesses Sue Press Fenick, a Marlton, NJ mom to two grade-school sons, who checked her worry by installing a bed rail on her younger child’s big-boy bed as a precaution.

Despite such understandable fears, this important transition doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Smooth the way for a great graduation to a toddler bed with the following tips.

Don’t worry, be happy

When parents are nervous, they can unwittingly pass on their angst to their child, says psychologist and mom Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “Children are like sponges; they pick up on our fears and anxieties,” she says. Do your best not to transmit your concern to your tot — talk about the new bed as an exciting new step, not a worrisome obligation.

Timing is everything

Climbing out of the crib and becoming interested in other beds in the house are signs that your child may be ready. While you don’t want to ditch the crib prematurely, you also don’t want to wait too long, or you may find yourself in a stressful situation where you must hurry your child out of the crib — to free it up for a new sibling, for example. If, indeed, a new baby will need the crib, Lombardo recommends making the switch at least a month before the birth, to give the older child time to adjust.

Control room

Toddlers are notoriously hungry for more independence, so give them some control over the transition. Allow tots to pick out their new bedding, select a fresh set of PJs and choose which stuffed animals get to come with them to the big-kid bed.

Calendar countdown

Create a “big-kid bed” countdown. One to two weeks before the switch, tell your child that she’ll be moving to a special new bed. Then cross off the days on the calendar and talk excitedly about the big day. Be sure not to set the date too far in advance; a buildup of several weeks could make your child anxious instead of eager.

Room service

If your child leaves his new bed in the middle of the night — or if you’re worried that he will — install a baby gate at his bedroom door. When you hear him get up, return him to his bed promptly, every time. Once he realizes that he won’t be rewarded with parental interaction or be able to get out of his room, he’ll be more likely to stay put.

Winning ways

To help your child maintain positive associations with her new bed, never use the bed as a place for punishment or a timeout. It’s more effective to reward positive behavior, says Lombardo. Sticker charts, special outings or a visit to the child’s favorite restaurant are good options.

Nap trap

At naptime, opportunistic toddlers may capitalize on their newfound freedom by refusing to stay in bed. “Often, kids do fine with their new bed at bedtime — naps present a bigger issue,” says Lombardo. Most 2-year-olds still need a daily siesta, so enforce naptime by creating a solid, consistent ritual and keeping the bedroom very dark and quiet.

However you handle the situation, “Don’t give in and allow your child to go back to the crib,” says Lombardo. Turn this transition into an exciting milestone, and the crib will soon be a thing of the past.

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep journalist, columnist and mom. She blogs about sleep and parenting at Thewellrestedfamily.com.

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