FROM CRIB TO BED, TODDLER BED TIME LOVERY
THE TIME HAS COME
You want to transition your toddler from their crib to a bed but you aren’t sure how or what to do exactly to support them in their changing development while also keeping them in the bed or their room.
WHAT DO WE DO FIRST?
Have a conversation with your child. Pull them right into this experience. It is going to affect them dramatically as most children have only known the safety and security of a crib from birth and it is helpful to consider how this change will affect them physically and emotionally. It may be helpful to consider the connection your child has with the crib and room environment to help understand their perspective during this process so you are better able to support them.
HAVE A PLAN BEFORE YOU HAVE THE CONVERSATION - Know when you plan to take the crib out and put the the bed in and work out the details ahead of time. Where are you buying the bed? When will the bed arrive? Does the room need to be rearranged to put the bed in? Will you have the time and energy to focus on this 100% at this time? Are you buying new sheets, pillows, decor, etc. Are you planning to put in a sleep clock? I recommend the Zasu sleep sheep.
CONVO PREP Find a time when you and your partner or you (if single parent) are able to give your child undivided attention and focus. Turn off all electronic devices and cosy up in a favorite place or space in the house and confidently and lovingly say:
“Now you sleep in a crib and soon you will have a different bed to sleep in. It may feel different, look different, support you different. Your body is growing and it needs something different so soon you will be sleeping in a bed. This is a normal and natural transition. Everybody starts in a crib and grows into a bed. It may feel different at first but we are here to help you. We will always be here to help you.”
Let this sink in with your child and give them opportunity to ask questions. If they ask questions stick to the facts and be direct. Try not to ramp up to create excitement in an effort to avoid fear or strong emotions. Let them have the emotions. If your child isn’t able to focus or understand what you are saying, they may not be ready for a toddler bed yet. The control it will take for a toddler to understand this process and stay in their bed, is similar to the control it takes to take in information when you are telling them about this type of transition. In my experience 2.5 - 3 years of age is a common and supportive age for this transition.
If you’re transitioning to a bed only because your child has started crawling out of their crib, I would not recommend the bed just yet. That’s like saying, oh, you want more freedom? Here is ALL OF IT. It would be better to focus on establishing firm boundaries with your child so they know crawling out of their crib is not safe. (I will create a separate BLOG post dedicated to that)
BE DIRECT AND HONEST - Don’t placate them. Don’t act like this is a huge celebration because it may not be to them. They feel safe in their current sleep set up. Tell them directly and wait to see their reaction and embrace them unconditionally when they have it, Treat them as you would a grown loved one and tell them honestly what may happen. Explain every detail to them. Let them be involved. Explain to them where the crib is going and when the bed is arriving.
“It may feel different, you may be a little nervous or you may feel excited, you may have to work a little hard to stay in bed, etc but we will be here to help you. We love you and will always be here to help you. We won’t know how you feel until the bed is here but once it is, we will be here for you and will help you learn and get comfortable. Maybe you will love it! Maybe you won’t feel any different! Either way, this is happening and we will help you. We are so proud of you as this is a big step. Everybody does it. Now it’s your time.”
Your confident demeanor will act as a beacon to your child. If you are confident and straight forward they will respond in kind. If you are nervous and hesitant they will pick up on that and will think they have something to be nervous about. Speak to them in a matter of fact way. They are going to follow your lead without question. This is why having a plan ahead of time is key. It will support you in demonstrating confidence because you will be confident. You will have taken the time to work out all the details beforehand, so your presentation will be clear. GIVE SPECIFICS - Know when you plan to make the switch and let your child know.
WHEN: “You will be sleeping in your crib for 2 more nights, then we will all go pick up your bed together or it will be delivered “this day” and you can help us put it in your room.” Children LOVE details. They use them to self soothe. They want/need clear, direct, consistent experiences in order to confidently take in information and feel comfortable processing/adjusting to change.
WHAT: “Your new bed looks like this, it will be in this spot in your room, you will have a pillow and some friends (stuffed animals) You can take a book or two into your bed, there will be a railing to keep you safe, etc.” Talk about any other changes that are going to occur in the room. “You will have a clock that looks like a sheep and it will tell you if it’s time to get out of bed to not, you will have a gate on your door to help you stay safe if you wake up before us, we will help you find safe things to do in your room if you wake up and want to get out of your bed to play, etc.” Be as specific with the details as possible and don’t be afraid to list the new boundaries as well. I recommend it as it will work well for all of you later.
These details are going to matter later if your child is uncomfortable during this process.. They will find comfort and feel trust by tracking all the things you said would be happening and they WILL be tracking. As soon as you mention all the changes, your child will begin places images in their mind so when the images become reality, it will be comforting and familiar.
Creating familiarity during a time of change is helpful to a toddler. It will help regulate fear and/or anxiety that may be popping up. Tracking familiarity is a natural self soothing technique when we are feeling anxious so opening up to them and trusting they are capable of handling all this information ahead of time will pay off for you both.
HOW: Create a new bedtime ritual that includes some of the old but adjust to include the new bed. Here is a bed time ritual I have participated in in the past:
6:35 and pajamas
6:45 Small Snack time on a picnic blanket in child’s bedroom. Water, Mary’s Crackers, Hummus
6:50/55: Teeth brushing
7:00pm Story Time
7:10/15 Choosing 2 - 3 stiffed animals and 2 books to bring into bed and then crawling into bed
7:20 a sweet song or list 3 things you love or are both so happy (grateful) for
7:25 Kisses & Hugs - Good Night (leave the room)
7:35 a planned check in your child was expecting. “I will come back in 10 minuted to give you a kiss and say goodnight again
Make sure your ritual includes bringing things into the new bed and let them choose them and place them in the bed. This is a form of taking ownership and this ownership will create feelings of confidence and pride.
What if my child Is having a hard time or resisting the schedule? See excerpt at the end of the post for tips on how to best support your child when this is happening.
FIRST NIGHT IN NEW BED
If you are at this step, hopefully all of this has already happened:
You gathered info and made a plan of action
You or You and your partner had a conversation with your child about the plan with an emphasis on detail
Your child was an active participant in the execution of changing the crib to a bed and the rearranging of their room
You have a new nighttime ritual and have already talked and explained how it will go, with your child
You have installed a gate at the door or have a concrete plan of action if/when your child leaves their bed and room (I highly recommend a gate at the door to create security and the feeling of safety for you all)
You, your partner and all care givers know the plan, language, and are in sync
You know what you are going to say and how you are going to support your child when they/if they resist any of this, including after you have left the room. see below
You feel confident and ready
You have no plans or distractions that would keep you from being totally present for your child from the start of the bedtime ritual to about 1 hour after bedtime
Ok, here we go! You have gone through all the nighttime ritual and your child is laying in bed. Remind them how proud you are of them, that you are here, they are safe and you love them. Before you leave you may want to say something like this:
“This is your first night in your new bed, if you aren’t able to fall asleep right away, that’s ok and totally normal. You can sing or play with your friends "(list the stuffed animals names) they are here with you to keep you company. If you don’t want to play with them you have your bed books for reading. If you feel nervous, you can take a breath once or twice and that will help you feel better. (hold their hands and demonstrate taking a few deep breaths) You are safe, we are here in the house with you. You may want to get out of bed. I am not offering getting out of bed because It is bed time.”
(point to the sheep clock or whatever bedtime clock you chose) and say:
“The sheeps eyes are closed now and you will know it is time to get out of bed when the sheeps eyes are open. When the eyes are open, call me or mommy, (insert as relevant) and we will come running in to give you the biggest good morning hug. I am so excited to see you in the morning!
If you have a video camera in the room remind them of it, point at it and explain that you can see them for more reassurance.
All of this conversation and covering potential scenarios will help create strong boundaries for your little one. If you are firm, honest and loving they will respect you and the boundaries. They may test them but when they do, a quick, non emotional, reminder via, help back into bed, will do.
Since they can now crawl out of their bed, they probably will, just to try this new sense of freedom and independence, on for size. If you see them crawl out of bed and start to play in their room, let them have it. Let them get it out of their system, without you coming back in because, they may use that as a way to get you back in the future. Give them about 10 - 15 minutes and if they are still out, send the most confident parent back to the door to say this:
“I see you are having a hard time staying in bed, would you like me to help you go back in?”
If they say yes: Come in and lovingly help them back and remind them “it is time for bed, that the sheeps eyes are closed and you’ll know it is time to come out when the sheep eyes are open and you are so proud if them and are excited to see them in the morning.” Then remind them if they want to play they can do so with the friends they have chosen to sleep in bed with, or they can read the books they chose. Then confidently exit, even if they start to cry. Show them with your confidence, even with tears, it is time for bed. I will sometimes turn and say: “I see you are sad, it’s okay to be sad and have feelings about bedtime. You can have all those feelings AND stay in bed. I love you, I am proud of you, I will see you in the morning.”
If they say No: You have 2 options in this scenario. FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT.
OPTION ONE: “Ok, I see you need a little time..sure, i’d be happy to come back to help you back into bed, in 10 minutes.” This is going to be really powerful for your child because you are treating them with respect and allowing them to make a decision about their body and bedtime. It will go far with them, supports their autonomy and it’s a strong relationship builder. The message you send to them in this moment is “I trust you, you are responsible, you are capable of knowing what you need.” If you come back and they say “No” again, then you can say “It is time now, I am going to help you because you are telling me you need my help. It is bedtime.” Then help them move their body into bed and repeat this:
Remind them it is time for bed, that the sheeps eyes are closed and you’ll know it is time to come out when the sheep eyes are open and you are so proud if them and are excited to see them in the morning. Then remind them if they want to play they can do so with the friends they have chosen to sleep in bed with or they can read the books they chose. Then confidently exit, even if they start to cry. Show them with your confidence, even with tears, it is time for bed. I will sometimes turn and say: “I see you are sad, it’s okay to be sad and have feelings about bedtime. You can have al those feelings and stay in bed. I love you, I am proud of you, I will see you in the morning.”
OPTION TWO: “I hear you, you aren’t ready. I understand. Everything is a little harder when we are tired, I am happy to help you, even if you aren’t ready. You don’t have to be ready, but it is bed time.” Then lovingly walk in and ask them, “Would you like to walk, or would you like me to carry you?” Give them this choice so they feel like they are in control of something. This will help them feel empowered. Even the smallest choices help children feel empowered. Respect their choice and repeat the above under option one.
IF THEY ARE INSISTENT IN GETTING OUT OF BED
This is usually a sign that you have not been clear and or firm and/or your child feels nervous and needs you to take the emotional rains and calm them down with your calm, loving reassurance. Children want to meet our expectations so if we have set a strong, clear expectation for them to stay in bed, they will. If they are not, try reminding them what the expectation is, and why, and pay close attention to how you are acting and treating them. Be firm and loving. Leave no room for options other than bed time. Remind them of all the exciting things that are going to happen in the morning after bedtime but do not use it as a bargaining chip. BARGAINING CHIP: “If you stay in bed I will see you in the morning and we will have pancakes.” This is straight up manipulation and the message you are sending your child is: “ignore your feelings and focus on getting pancakes.” also “you are not capable of doing but if you suffer through, you can have pancakes” Teaching your children to focus on an end result without teaching them how to confidently feel and navigate their own feelings and experience can lead to a list of emotional issues that I will happily create a separate blog post about later. Basically, don’t do it.
Remind them of the benefit of staying in bed. “Sleep is important for your body. It will help you feel great and have energy tomorrow to do all the things you love. It is my job to help learn healthy habits. Sleep is an important one! I will always help you, even when it’s hard for you. I will help you learn how capable you are. That's my job.”
You are modeling, love, focus, commitment and followthrough in the midst of a new experience and it being hard. They are paying attention.
IF THEY ARE LOSING THEIR MINDS SCREAMING AND CRYING
Sometimes this is necessary for a child to release emotion and energy from the day, Crying and screaming do not necessarily need to be tended to unless you feel something might be really wrong. This is another time I recommend trusting your instinct. Try to avoid going in and let them cry it out. If they have been carrying on for a long time, a quick visit, with a gentle reminder that they are safe and that crying is ok, may help.
It may sound something like this:
“I see you are having some big feelings.. It’s okay to have feelings and I am happy you are letting them out, It will help you sleep. I just came to the door to tell you, I hear you, I love you and you are safe. I will see you in the morning. Sleep well. bye bye”
You can use this check in often if you feel it won’t backfire. Trust your instinct during this process.
THE BEDROOM SPACE
If your child will now have full access to the bedroom it is crucial it is a safe space. Safe for climbing, touching, no choking hazards, sharp or heavy objects, etc. Basically everything in the room has to be safe for them to explore if they choose do so at 3am when you are in a deep sleep. I will create another BLOG post detailing SAFE SPACE for reference.
Your children will look to you for guidance when embarking on a new aspect of their daily routines. They will watch you closely. They are deeply focused on the details of our mannerisms, facial expressions, change of breathing, speech speed, etc. Any sudden shift will send them into an emotional tailspin so the calmer and more confident you are, the easier transitions will be on them. They will be looking to you and at you for reasons to worry, so pay close attention to how you respond or present information. Try to be as matter of fact and non emotional as possible. Especially when introducing and following through via your verbal and physical communications in all the details of this crib to bed transition.
Basically you are the captain. It is your job to steer the ship and steady the course when the water gets choppy, not theirs. There is tremendous value and seed planting for dealing with life in these moments for your children. Use these moments to instill healthy habits, coping mechanisms and proof of confidence. It is the steady, consistent repetitive sequences that your children will come to rely on and feel comfort from.
I have done MANY in home and phone consults on sleep. 100% of the time it is the parent who is contributing to the child’s resistance without knowing it. When children feel safe, loved and are given clear expectations and firm boundaries they relax and are happy to meet the expectation. Feel free to reach out if you feel I could be of service to you and your family.
What if my child Is having a hard time or resisting the schedule? Excellent question! Let’s say a child is resistant in putting their pajamas on and it has been a 10 minute struggle. No problem. This is a great opportunity to let them learn the power of choices, consequence and the practice of control and focus. If they have burned through 10 minutes you can lovingly remind them:
“I’m afraid we no longer have time to read a story because you wanted all that extra time to put on your pajamas, tomorrow night I’ll be sure to remind you that if we want to read a story we will need to spend less time putting on your pajamas.”
Then allow the emotions to flow and come as they do. If they begin to beg and plead for the story, make sure to steady the course because all future bed time routines depend on it. Here is what that may sound like:
“Ah, I hear you, you really want a story. I am not able to offer the story tonight because you chose to focus on your pajamas for so long and we don’t have time but tomorrow I will be sure to help you stay focused because I see reading a story is really important to you.”
Take all shame out of the conversation. Be careful not to use anything against them. Shame example: “You gave me such a hard time putting your pajamas on so I am not going to read you a story” That is not going to support either of you and their pajama struggle had nothing to do with you so try not to take it personal or make it about you. It was simply a choice they made. Just emotionally dance along with them and be their choice & consequence guide.
Also, bed time is the LAST place you want to send a message to them that they have disappointed you in any way. Their focus will immediately turn to getting back into sync with you and all ability to confidently go to bed will be gone. Plus, they are tired. They need you to keep them focused and on course. They are begging for it as a natter of fact. That is your only job during this time.
Ok, back to the bedtime ritual: Now help them move along to the next stage of the bedtime ritual. If they are persistent in focusing on the fact that they want a story you can support them by saying this:
“I see you are upset and I understand but I am worried, if we focus on this longer, we will not have the time to sing our song so which would you like more? Time to be sad that the story isn’t available or moving along to pick which friends you want with you for bed time?” Then support their choice, no matter what they choose.
Again, more choice, focus support and cause and affect. This HAS to be their choice. Whatever they choose it is important to accept it, adapt to it and help them stick to it. If they try to debate or deviate a simple gentle, loving reminder that it was their choice and they will have the opportunity to choose differently tomorrow should support them in refocusing.
I am sending you all confident loving focus during this time of change! Good luck and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need me!