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Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed: How To Do It

Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed

We made the big jump over the weekend!

And with as much time as I have spent studying human behavior, and as hugely successful I have seen the strategies be over and over again, I have to say I am continuously amazed when the same things work with my own child. 

I know that I shouldn’t be surprised -- this is what I have spent my life studying and doing, but I have to tell you -- I'm repeatedly in awe of HOW IT WORKS over and over again when done correctly.

When it comes to transitioning your child from the crib to a toddler bed, the first question to answer is this: WHEN is the right time to transition?

When is the Right Time to Transition from a Crib to a Toddler Bed?

There is no easy answer to this question. Conventional wisdom is that you make the transition when you can no longer safely contain your toddler in the crib.  In other words, he is climbing up over the top and trying to get out of the crib. 

I know plenty of parents who still have their 4-year-old in a crib because "She's happy there," and so if it's not broken, why try to fix it? However, we had other reasons for making the transition. 

Our daughter was actually quite content in her crib.  She's never tried to climb out, and honestly she just loves her bed. 

Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed

So it might seem crazy that we opted to transition her to the big girl bed, but we are expecting our 2nd baby in two months, and we made the choice to save money by recycling the crib and buying a toddler bed rather than buying a second crib.

Last night was her first night in the toddler bed, and she never cried going into it; never attempted to get out. 

We did our whole nighttime routine and put her in the bed, left the room, and watched on the monitor as she laid there with her lovies and fell asleep! 

And I, the behavior analyst who has worked with countless parents on sleep training, looked on with amazement at my husband and said, "I cannot believe it was that easy."

And as I sit here and type this post, it is 7:10 a.m. the following morning, and she slept through the night without waking or crying or getting out, and is still asleep in her big girl bed.

How We Did It

To start, I'm going to describe something a little technical, but it deserves a bit of explanation.

Proactive Strategies & Reactive Strategies

When we mention proactive, we’re referring to strategies that are employed BEFORE something happens – the prep work or steps that you can take in advance to make your plan more successful.

When we mention reactive, we’re referring to the strategies that are employed AFTER a behavior occurs – how you handle it or how you react.

In preparing for this transition to toddler bed, we utilized a ton of proactive strategies (Read: Preparation is the Key to Success). We have read a lot about preparing our 20-month-old for the impending arrival of her little brother.

Much of the literature suggested that any major changes, if possible, should occur well before the baby's arrival (or well after).  This is recommended so that there isn't an association with (potentially aversive) changes and the baby's arrival.  Knowing that we would eventually be making the transition to toddler bed, we did the research and bought the bed two months before we started the transition.

We put the bed together in the spare bedroom and made it a cool, fun, time.  We put her lovies and blanket on the bed, made it very exciting, let her play on the bed etc.  For the next two months, we'd visit the room and talk about her "big girl bed," occasionally sitting and playing on it, reading a story there, etc. 

With these proactive strategies, she became used to seeing her big girl bed, being in it, and it wouldn’t be a complete shock when it moved into her room. Yesterday on Sunday, we decided to make the change early in the morning.  (In hindsight, we should have probably chosen Friday so that we had two weekend nights to work through any bumps.)

The whole move took some time as we had to take doors off hinges and legs off the crib to make the swap, so I'm glad we started early. Nap time was the first opportunity for her to sleep in the new bed. 

We kept the routine the same as normal, but I did rock her a little extra to make sure that she was super sleepy.  I put her in the bed, tucked her into the new blanket and on her new pillow, and then left the room.  She did some tossing and turning, seemed to be flummoxed by the new blanket and pillow, and whined for about 5 minutes (no crying or screaming, just grumbling).
Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed
She finally stood up out of the bed, and I went in with the plan to just put her back in bed without talking (our decided reactive strategy), but noticed that she smelled like she needed a diaper change (a historic reason that she has difficult time falling asleep).  I quickly changed her diaper, rocked a little more, and decided to pull the new blanket and pillow off, leaving her with what seemed more like her old crib (large flat space with her lovies and one small fuzzy blanket).

She laid down, rolled around for a bit, and eventually fell asleep!  She had a normal two-hour nap, and when she woke up, she climbed out of the bed and stood in her room until we went to get her (she can't yet open door handles on her own, which I actually think is a fantastic plan when choosing to do this earlier rather than later).

When it came to nighttime, we decided to go with the same strategy of pulling the blanket and pillow off of the bed (to more closely mimic her crib environment).  We went through her nighttime routine, bottle, teeth brushing, and rocking.  I put her in her bed, made her lovies all very excited to see her in the new bed, tucked her small blanket around her (just like we'd do in her crib), and said "night night." 

Like I said above, she never cried, she never tried to get up out of bed, she laid there and twirled her hair (a normal "fall asleep" action) until she was asleep.  AND THAT WAS IT! 

She never woke up in the middle of the night (or at least if she did, she didn't cry or wake us up, just went back to sleep).  She slept until 7:15 in the morning, and when she was finally awake she again stepped down out of the bed and stood next to it until I came in and got her.

Now, a few small things… Everyone tells us how 'lucky' we are because of what an easy baby and toddler our daughter has been.  I don't believe that we got lucky, and I don't think that she was just born with this great personality that makes her easy going.

I believe that we have consistently utilized behavioral strategies to shape the child that she is becoming.  This knowledge, practice, and experience more than likely aided how easy our transition was last night.  That said, even if you do all the same prep work that we did, you still might have a bit more of a struggle just depending on the type of child you have, so the reactive strategies are just as important to decide as the proactive strategies.


Sleep Training: The Complete Guide | Parent Like a Professional

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