Tips for Moving to a Big Kid Bed
- Most experts recommend that you not move your child until they are at least three years old. That is not to say that younger kids can’t sleep in a big kid bed, but that is usually an exception rather than a norm.
- Moving into a bed is about impulse control and cognitively, impulse control is more developed by three years of age.
- We recommend starting on a Friday or during vacation so that your partner can support you and so that there is no pressure to get out of the house the next morning (assume you and your child may not sleep well!)
- DO NOT assume a child is ready for a big kid bed because he is climbing out of the crib—that is not a sign of readiness.
- Begin talking about sleeping in a big bed in the weeks leading up to the change. Point out beds in books, talk about friends who sleep in a big bed, put dolls or animals to sleep in a big bed during play.
- Consider letting your child pick out her bedding and be a part of setting up the room.
- If you are NOT converting your crib to a toddler bed, try moving the new bed in to the room with the crib. That way your toddler can begin getting used to the bed, you can read stories in it and talk about moving when she is ready.
- Pick a date on the calendar, mark it with a sticker and begin to count down to the date about two weeks in advance.
- You can begin to talk about expectations before making the move: “Remember, you have to stay in your bed, there is no getting out. You may call mommy if you need something.” Or “When you are in your bed, you have to lay quietly and go night night.” It’s good to begin chatting about this before the pressure is on.
- Pick up useful tools for success (see below.)
- Purchase safety rails. We like the extra tall ones from KidCo.
- We recommend purchasing a stay-in-bed clock such as the Good Nite Light so that your child will have a visual for when it’s time to get out of bed.
- We also recommend getting a digital clock that lights up so that your child can begin associating wake up time with the time on the clock. “Look! The sun on your clock is shining (on the Good Nite Light) and your clock says 7-0-0. Now it’s time to wake up!” This will be another cue to help your child know when it is/isn’t time to get out of bed. It can be used the same way at night.
- Use a small step stool to climb in to bed and then remove it—tell your child he may not get down until the stool is back.
- Consider making a reward sticker chart for staying in bed.
THE BIG DAY!
Once the bed and room are all set up, you are ready to go! Begin your bedtime routine early so that you have extra time to spend taking pictures, making a big deal, celebrating and then settling down.
- Expect that it will take your child longer than usual to fall asleep. It’s exciting for him-his adrenaline will be pumping.
- Try not to plant the seed by telling him “Don’t get out!” Just stay focused on what he should do. “Lay down, stay in bed, snuggle up with your pillows.”
- Acknowledge that this is exciting—help your child label how he might be feeling: “I can tell you are excited about your new bed!” or “I can see your body is all wiggly with excitement….but it’s time to settle down now.”
- It may help to rub his back, or sit in the room for a few minutes longer until you can tell he is calming down.
- Try to AVOID starting any new enabling habits—in other words, don’t lay down in bed with your child or on the floor next to him. You don’t want to get stuck having to do that every night, so avoid it from the outset!
- If your child asks you to stay, you may oblige, but set a time limit: “Mommy can stay for two more minutes…but after that, I will be right outside in the living room” and then follow through with leaving.
- It’s normal that your child may feel anxious or even scared moving to a big kid bed—this is a big change for them! Try not to brush it off.
- Avoid statements like “Don’t be scared! You’re a big boy now.” Instead say something like: “It’s okay to feel nervous! This is a big change. But you are okay, and mommy will be right outside.” This shows your child that you empathize with the feelings, while providing comfort and reassurance.
IF YOUR CHILD GETS OUT OF BED:
- Remember, this is about impulse control first and foremost, so when your child gets out of bed, it’s important not to take it personally. Most children are not trying to be bad or disobedient! They are simply acting on impulse and responding to newfound freedoms.
- Give the child a gentle, yet firm reminder that he needs to stay in bed while putting him back.
- Direct his attention to the stay-in-bed clock and the fact that it is dark outside to reaffirm it is time for bed.
- Acknowledge feelings: “It’s hard to stay in bed because you are excited, but it’s time to lay down and go to sleep.” Connecting the way that her body is feeling and giving it words helps her to understand what is happening—this will help her master her own impulses more quickly.
- The more your child gets out of bed, the less you react. Simply take the child back to bed without saying anything. Your child will like the extra attention you are giving her, so the more you minimize your reaction, the better.
- Staying in bed can become a battle of wills, but with consistency and persistence, your child will learn that he needs to stay in bed.
- You MUST stay calm and collected! Remember, your child feeds off your energy, so if you get annoyed or frustrated your child will feel defensive and less likely to comply.
- If you feel like you simply cannot take your child in again or if you are no longer able to stay patient, have your partner take over, or work together throughout the process so that the same message is coming from both of you.
- If you still have the crib in the room, you can always use that to help motivate your child to stay in bed: “I see you are having a hard time staying in your new bed. Maybe you need to go back into your crib?….” Or “It seems to me like you aren’t ready to sleep in a big kid bed…if you get out one more time, you’re going back in your crib.” And then follow through. Tell your child “We will try again tomorrow…” but I encourage you not to resort to this right away. Give your child a chance to learn first. (If you converted your crib to the bed, you can set up a pack n play in the room and use it the same way.)
- Set up a sticker or reward chart. By three years old, this sort of positive reward system can be effective. Earn three stickers in a row for staying in bed and then get a small gift.
- Lots of celebration and talking about it the next day is very important! Be sure to revisit what your child did right and what he needs to improve upon. “You did a great job staying in bed! Tonight, show me you can do it again, but please no yelling this time!” Talking about it throughout the day when the pressure is off helps reiterate your expectations.
BE PREPARED FOR EXCUSES!
- Your child is smart and will probably use every excuse in the book to delay bedtime or going to bed. She wants a drink, to use the potty, one more story, etc.
- Pre-emptively take care of all these things before shutting off the lights. Tell your child “This is the last drink of water…no more.” Set limits and then do not cave when she asks again. The quicker you shut down the manipulation, the faster your child will learn that her excuses won’t work.
- Your child may stay in bed, but continuously call for you. How do you know when to go in?
- Some children just need reassurance that a parent is there and can hear him, so it’s important to respond the first time. You can say: “I am here honey, I hear you. It’s time for you to settle down now and be quiet.”
- If she calls again: “Honey, you are okay. It’s time for you to settle down. I will check on you in a bit, but you need to stop shouting.” You can also remind her: “No more water, (or whatever the excuse is…)
- Try to avoid going in after that, but if you must, try to say very little, if anything at all. A simple “shhhh” and “go night, night.” is all you should say. Try not to answer questions or get involved in a dialogue.
Moving to a big kid bed can definitely impact your child’s naptime. If a child is moving towards dropping a nap anyway, the big kid bed may move that process along. If a child still really needs a nap, you may see a few days of nap difficulties before the child adjusts and learns to nap in her new bed.
- Whatever the case, be consistent. Put her in her bed, express the same expectations about what she is supposed to do and then leave her in there for the duration of her normal naptime (even if she doesn’t sleep.)
- You can set the Good Night Lite for nap time as well
- Return the child to her bed if she gets out, just like you would at bedtime
- If your child doesn’t sleep and is moving towards dropping nap completely, we still encourage having “quiet time” in bed. He can look at books or the iPad or something like that, but learning to stay quiet in bed to decompress is an important (and necessary) skill for young children.
Remember, just like potty training or sleep teaching, helping your child learn to stay in bed and fall asleep is a process and will take time. The KEY is patience and consistency. Guide your child in the right direction and he will follow!
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