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Big Kid Bed Transition


A big sleep topic in the world of toddlers is the transition to the big kid bed. This was probably the worst sleep event that I’ve experienced as a mom.


Picture this: my kid has always slept in her crib, it’s 5 am, I’m doing yoga in our bedroom, and while in downward dog, my 2 year old shows up at my door and tries to walk in between my legs…sleep sack and all.


Talk about terrifying.

That was the beginning of some rough nights for us.


However, with the right tips, you’ll have a much easier time with the switch!


When to Make the Big Kid Bed Transition!


I suggest waiting to make the transition until at least 3 years old.


There are very few reasons that would have me suggest doing it any sooner, but why?


Your toddler’s developing brain is still working on acquiring impulse control. It is simply an underdeveloped skill that becomes better with time and practice.


Your toddler also LOVES clear boundaries (even though they adamantly protest them). For these 2 reasons, removing the boundaries of the crib and giving full access to an entire house of fun after bedtime is a recipe for bedtime disaster.


Waiting until at least 3 years or older will allow you to reason with your child and establish new rules around bedtime.


At this point, you can expect that they have the ability to follow the rules of staying in their bed all night long.


But will they comply?


Tips to Get Your Toddler to Stay in Their Bed


The single most important tip to make sure your toddler stays in their big kid bed all night long: be sure you have a solid sleep foundation first!


If you are already dealing with trouble at bedtime and middle of the night wakings, a big kid bed will likely make things worse. Remember, removing the boundaries and giving more access to the entire house puts their little brains in overdrive, making an already challenging situation borderline impossible.


Be sure you have established bedtime routines, an age-appropriate bedtime, no middle of the night wakings, and a reasonable wake up time of 6:00 a.m. and later.


Put a gate at the door and secure furniture in the room, making the entire room like a giant crib. There is no need to lock the door because this may cause significantly more protest at bedtime.


A happy compromise to providing a physical boundary to their new sleep space is a tall gate at their door that they are unable to unlock or climb.


Remember to secure all of their furniture and remove any high-ticket toys that could prevent them from falling into a peaceful slumber.


Purchase an “okay to wake clock” like this one on Amazon.


You set the clock for the light to turn green when it is okay to get out of bed in the morning.


I love this one as opposed to using the Hatch light because the smiley face on the clock is awake and asleep at the times you set.


It provides another visual cue that it’s either still nighttime or okay to wake up.


Set the clock to an hour when you know they’ll easily see the green light. For example, if they usually wake up at 6:15 a.m., set the green light for 6:00 a.m. for a week or 2.


Then praise praise praise their accomplishment of sleeping until the green light.

Once they understand the concept, you can slowly increase the green light wake time.


If your child is 3 years or older, have a family meeting at dinner time and briefly talk about sleep rules.

This can be very simple and concise. “After we read our book and the lights go out, it is time to stay in bed all night long until the green light.” Remind them of the rules and refer to the clock- “Look, the clock is asleep, so it is time to rest our body.”


If they get out of bed, practice a silent return.


Your toddler thrives off attention, and if we make a big deal when they get out of bed, this will reinforce the behavior and cause it to happen with greater intensity.


If your toddler shows up at your door after lights out, simply walk them back to bed. There is no need to talk as you have already reviewed the rules at bedtime.


Point to the clock, tuck them in, and leave.


If you do not have a gate at the door, this process will likely take a long time, but being consistent will produce the quickest results.


But I Need the Crib for My New Baby or They are Crib Climbing!


It can be tempting to transition your toddler to a big kid bed if you are expecting a little one and would prefer not to purchase another piece of furniture.


If your toddler is already 3 years old and has a great sleep foundation, then making the switch while you are pregnant and not in the throes of the newborn stage is a good idea. Establishing a new sleeping space prior to the baby’s arrival can be advantageous.


If your child is under the age of 3 and/or does not have a great sleep foundation, work on the sleep first and invest in a mini crib or bassinet for your newest addition.


Most parents room share with their newborns for the first few months of life, which extends your oldest child’s lease on their crib.


If you need to put the baby in their own room, their are plenty of affordable mini crib options to buy time with your oldest one in their current sleep space. As long as your newborn is sleeping on a flat surface, free of blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals, they will not know the difference if their crib is $100 or $1,000.


Trust me… this investment is worth every penny.


If your child is crib climbing and under the age of 3, you can practice silent return to the crib until they understand that it is not a game and you expect them to sleep in their crib.


Some kids respond well to this and others, like my 2 crib climbers, won’t give a hoot.


In that case, making the transition to the big kid bed is necessary for safety reasons. Be sure to treat the room like a big crib, putting a gate at the door and securing all furniture.



What to Expect When You Switch to a Big Kid Bed


When you switch to the big kid bed, regardless of their age, you are likely to experience some boundary testing.


This may look like getting out of bed multiple times at bedtime, early morning wakings, or tantrums when you enforce the sleep rules. It is our kids’ job to test our boundaries and see what they can get away with, which is why a great sleep foundation is essential prior to making the switch.


An overtired parent dealing with the boundary pushing of an overtired child is a recipe for disaster. Remember, you are the parent and they are the child.


You are allowed to expect them to sleep in their rooms and you are allowed to provide them with a boundary to do so. If they end up falling asleep on the floor, simply move them to their bed. It won’t be the first time they sleep on a floor and we all survived many nights at sleepovers and grandparents’ houses cuddled up on a soft rug, right??


If you’re on the big kid bed struggle bus and would like me to assess your sleep situation, schedule a free call by clicking the button below.



Rest Well, Sarah




Big Kid Bed Transition
Big Kid Bed Transition
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