Parenting expert Terry Carson suggests that the third birthday is the best time to make the transition, though some parents start sooner. A child who is climbing out of the crib on her own risks falling over the railings and onto the floor. If you have to wait a few weeks before you can get a bed set up in your child’s room, Carson suggests a couple improvised safety measures: Place pillows on the floor to cushion any potential falls. Putting the mattress directly on the floor (in a fully baby-proofed room) is another option. It’s also important that children reaching this stage are old enough to pull a pillow or blanket on and off themselves.
Carson cautions parents to be mindful of other major changes that could be happening at the same time, such as toilet training, moving to a new home or the birth of another child. If a new sibling — and the need for the hand-me-down crib — is prompting the change, Carson recommends switching beds a couple months before the baby arrives or keeping the newborn in a bassinet instead.
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Getting children involved in choosing their bedding and setting up their bed will help them feel excited about the change, especially at an age when independence is so important. If you’re choosing between a themed toddler bed (like a Thomas the Tank engine design), or a larger-sized twin or double, remember that toddlers can grow out of the small beds quickly.
Night wandering can be a concern, but Carson has a simple process for dealing with an escape artist.
“The best method is to take them back to bed and very gently but firmly say, ‘You need to go back to bed and go to sleep.’ And then repeat this response like a robot — do not get into a conversation — even if you have to keep repeating yourself for a couple hours, or even a few nights in a row.” In fact, it’s likely to get worse for a few days before it tapers off.
If your child continues to wander after two weeks of trying this approach, you might try installing guardrails on his or her bed. Carson says a safety gate on the bedroom door is a last-resort option. Your child will be contained inside his or her room, but won’t be locked behind a shut door. Remember that a kid who wanders out of bed doesn’t mean that the transition is failing, it just means that the child still needs to be trained.
Like many milestones in childhood development, it won’t happen — ahem — overnight.
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