Sleep & Nap Issues: Should We Switch Our Child To A Big Kid Bed?

Dear Dr. Heather, When should we switch B to a regular kid bed? She's 2 1/2 and still in her crib, but hasn't shown ANY sign of not liking it, or trying to get out. It's a hassle to lift her in and out, but at least she's not up and about at all hours of the night (like I think she would be if she was in a "regular" bed).

Katie Kat, Lawrence, KS

Dear Katie Kat,

This is an easy one. WAIT AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. That crib feels awfully cozy and comfy to a toddler who is trying out new (and sometimes scary) things every day. Some of you have little monkeys who manage to escape the crib. Don’t be fooled; they might be trying to see if they CAN get out, but that doesn’t mean they really WANT to get out. (Or that you really want them to!)

I mean, really, what’s so great about a Big Kid Bed?

I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard like this: Toddler escapes crib. Parents assume: AHA! Time for the Big Kid Bed. After highly-anticipated Dora/Diego sheets purchased from “Tarzhay”, Big Kid Bed is initiated. Toddler then proceeds to roam the house freely at night and otherwise wake up the household at all hours. Parents suffer major sleep deprivation (again) until the Monkey gets closer to 3 (or 4), and settles into a Big Toddler sleep pattern. If you have a Monkey, take a look at these crib tents. People  swear by them, and it seems to give that sense of reassurance to the toddler that “your crib is still a safe place for you”.

Really, the crib is not only for keeping the toddler corralled and in the same general location all night. It’s also for providing a sense of safety and containment for them. So don’t worry that you’re somehow making them feel like they’re in “toddler jail”.  And most toddlers don’t even attempt to climb out, not because they can’t, but because they are comforted by the secure feeling of the crib. When we moved our then 2 1/2 year old oldest to a bed, she acted like the bed still had rails. She wanted to be put in and out of the bed, like a crib. I think it freaked her out a little bit to be so "free"!

Really, as long as they are happy in the crib, don't make yourself nuts. There is no developmental/psychological reason for them to move into a "Big Kid Bed" at 2 or even 3. Wait until it makes sense for the toddler, and the household, to do it. And when you are ready, some kids like the option of having both bed and crib available, if there's space. Then THEY can make the choice, nightly, for awhile.

For some, the decision will coincide with them trying to stay dry at night, and going by themselves to the potty. So that could be a transition point. But whatever you do, don’t ask the toddler to give their crib up to a new baby. If you must transition the crib for a newbie, make the transition as slowly as possible, and as early as possible. You want to avoid the sense of safety being taken away from the toddler, and given to the new baby. You don’t need to fuel sibling rivalry any more than necessary! Ideally, both toddler and infant would have their OWN cribs. While this isn’t always practical or possible, it does attempt to convey that “you each have your own separate, safe places that nobody will take away until you’re ready.”

That said, many toddlers make the transition to the Big Kid Bed without fuss or difficulties. But it comes down to knowing YOUR kid, being flexible with the transition, and respecting the needs of everyone in the family. (You included!)


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink