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Big Kid Beds: When to Make the Switch

​​Your toddler may have a heady sense of freedom the first few nights after transferring permanently to a bed. Luckily, most children are happy to “graduate” and stay in their beds more willingly than they did in their cribs. However, for a few, the transition has to be managed closely. The best way is to continue with the same bedtime routine you have used since your child first joined the family.

Repeat the Following Steps:

  1. When you end a routine, tell your child to stay in bed until you come for her.

  2. If she gets out of bed, calmly and quietly lead her back and tell her she must stay in bed.

  3. When she gets back into bed, reward her by telling h​er briefly what a good girl she is for being there, then leave the room.

  4. Tell her that you will come and check on her during the night. For some children it provides reassurance.

Prepare Yourself for a Bedtime Struggle

But don’t kid yourself that the struggle is over. Be prepared to repeat steps 1 and 2 as many times as you have to for several nights in a row. Twenty “farewell appearances” in one evening is by no means an unusual number. Above all, stay calm and keep interactions with your child on a low-key level; they should be brief and boring. The aim is to reward her with praise for staying in bed and not for getting out. Children tend to feel, as many advertisers do, that any attention is better than none. If getting out of bed brings your toddler extra attention—even negative attention, by making you angry—she’ll do it again and again. By contrast, if you keep the atmosphere quiet and even boring, the excitement of getting out will soon pale.

Avoid Rewarding Bedroom Breakouts

While respecting your toddler’s newfound mobility, insist on the rule that once it’s time for sleep, people have to stay in bed until morning unless they have to go to the bathroom. Avoid rewarding bedroom breakouts, such as by allowing your child to climb into your bed or join the members of the family who are still up. Instead, praise her in the morning for having stayed in bed all night.

Make Climbers Safer

If your child is going to climb out of bed whether you want him to or not, let him know that the only time that climbing out is acceptable is when sleep or nap time is over. In addition, you should make his room as safe and hazard-free as you can. While you are waiting to buy a new bed, place the crib mattress on the floor. Clear away furniture and large toys, like rocking horses, that could injure your child if he fell against them. You may need to install a safety gate across your toddler’s bedroom door to keep him from wandering when you are not awake. You will also need a gate at the top of the stairs to prevent possible injury when your toddler gets out of bed. Install childproof latches on chests of drawers or tape drawers shut so they can’t be pulled out and used as steps.​

Last Updated
Sleep: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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