“hi Abby, happy new year. I hope you are well. I am enjoying your email series.
We have a new challenge with Gabe. He has learned to climb out of the crib. I don’t feel it’s safe transitioning to a toddler bed because then he can wander around all the time and I also don’t feel safe leaving him for bedtime and he is on a bedtime strike most nights. I thought about pushing his bedtime later but that’s not good for his rest.
He also still shares a room with his 6 year old sister who goes to bed later than him.
What do we do with this toddler behavior? This wasn’t an issue with my daughter as far as I can remember.
I love this question because so many parents come to me after things have gone terribly wrong with the transition out of the crib.
Oftentimes, after the transition, parents find themselves sitting in their child’s bedroom for long periods of time at bedtime, or even lying down with them at bedtime and multiple times throughout the night.
It’s so much easier to prevent problems than it is to fix them… though don’t despair if you are already at the place of needing to fix them!
My first piece of advice is: climbing out of the crib doesn’t have to mean the end of the crib! Try talking to your child, sternly, first. Explain to them that it’s not safe to climb out of the crib. With my older – and very compliant – child, I explained that if she continued to climb, I would have to take her crib away to keep her safe and this would make her very sad.
To my amazement, this actually worked!
So definitely try that. Just because a child can climb out the crib doesn’t mean they definitely will.
Similarly, just because they can climb out of the crib doesn’t mean that you should move them.
I generally counsel parents not to move their children to an open bed before age 3-4 years old unless they are engaging in seriously dangerous behavior. (My friend Amy’s daughter Eleanor taught her two year old brother, Leo, how to stand on top of the bars of the crib and then take flying leaps into the crib. This was a case for getting rid of the crib immediately!)
Oh, and one more thing on this point – a new baby arriving at your house is not a reason to move your toddler to an open bed! Trust me, the last thing you need with a newborn at home is a toddler wandering the halls. Use a pack n play or borrowed second crib for the new baby until the older child is fully ready for a new bed.
When you do decide the time is right to make the switch, please don’t use the words “big kid bed.” Most toddlers and preschoolers have some serious ambivalence about growing up. Sometimes they want to, other times, they want nothing more than to crawl back into the womb. Using the language of “big kid” is too much pressure.
If you are able to continue using your child’s crib and just take the side off to convert it to a toddler bed, great, do that. That will feel nice and cozy to your child (hopefully).
If you are moving to a toddler bed, put the new bed next to the crib and leave the crib set up for a few extra days.
If you plan to move straight to a twin bed, I suggest putting your toddler’s crib mattress on the floor next to the crib first and let them make a gradual adjustment. Let them sleep on the crib mattress if they want to.
If your child decides they want to go back to the crib for a few days, that’s fine. Let them.
In the meantime, keep the twin bed in the room and use it for bedtime stories. That is a nice way to build pleasant, low-pressure associations with the bed.
I promise they won’t want to sleep in the crib forever.
In my next post I’ll talk about safety and thinking about turning your child’s room into a giant crib, once they are out of the actual crib.
PS If you have a question you’d like to see answered in a blog post, please email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org I’d be happy to address it and I am sure lots of other parents have the same question as you!
PPS And if you are struggling with a nighttime wanderer, you are not alone! Schedule a free sleep consultation and we'll get you sorted out in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
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Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.