Here’s a milestone I have been absolutely dreading: the “big boy” bed transition. Why, you ask? Simple. For nearly 2 years, my son has slept soundly in his cozy crib — I’m talking 2-2.5 hour naps, daily, and about 10.5 hours of sleep at night, consistently. It wasn’t until a few months ago that he tried to escape the crib (and was successful on several occasions). This is part of the reason we had to make the switch — safety, plus the fact that his baby brother is due to arrive in less than 4 months, and will need the crib. Besides, I can’t imagine tackling this transition once I have a newborn to attend to.
So here we are, 24 days into the toddler-bed-thing, and although I’d like to say it’s all gravy, it’s not. Although he fooled us into thinking this would be easy by sleeping without an issue on Night 1, It’s been pretty rocky since; lots of tears, trashing his room, and occasionally not sleeping at nap-time. This transition has been one of the toughest so far. With that said, I know that the worst is behind us; and although he is going to have rough naps (when he decides to actually take them) and nights when he wants us to stay in bed with him until he falls asleep, I am happy to have tackled this now. I must also mention, even though we have not been as lucky as others whose kids continued to sleep like nothing had changed, we do believe we learned a lot as parents, and even have a few helpful pointers:
- Black-out the room – I thought the black-out curtains I already had over his window were enough, but it turns out they were not. If he had just a little bit of sunlight to see his toys, books, and stuffed animals, he was definitely going to take advantage of his new-found freedom and play. So I went to a fabric store and I bought some black material that wasn’t too heavy, cut into the dimensions of the window glass. I used double-sided tape to adhere the fabric to the glass, and rolled the blinds back over the window. The darkened glass, plus shut blinds, plus black-out curtains (secured with balloon clips) works great! There are still small traces of light above the window and under his bathroom door, but it’s still a very dark and cozy sleeping environment.
- Remove toys and books from room – this sounds extreme, but may just be a temporary thing as the kid gets used to having this type of freedom. Basically, we discovered that in the daytime, the only way to get our son into the “zone” to sleep would be to leave him with nothing but stuffed animals and blankets. Even books can pose as a distraction. After your child gets used to going to bed like a “big kid,”and gets over the newness of being able to roam around the room, I would imagine it would be okay to put his or her toys back in place. For us, it’s probably going to be quite a while.
- Baby-proof the room like CRAZY – If your kid is anything like mine, he will get into everything in the room, climb everything in the room, and is generally not to be trusted alone. For the past 24 days, we have done more baby-proofing and rearranging than I ever imagined we’d do, just to ensure Bubba’s safety and a chance at some rest. Here are a few of those things: put “locks” on the sliding closet doors, snap child-proof door knobs on doors, make sure all outlets have plugs in place, detach ceiling lamp light control from the outlet on the wall (we now have to pull the cord above to turn light off and on), switch the old cable outlet to a “dummy” outlet, move the video monitor to the bathroom outlet and tape the camera in place outside the bathroom door (so Bubs cannot get to the plug, outlet, or cord), and of course, be sure no furniture is close to a window (because he will undoubtedly climb it).
- Skip buying a bed, just stick a mattress on the floor – This was really hard for me to accept. I had his grand vision of this perfect little toddler bed with the safety rail and a nice bedspread that Bubs got to choose himself, but the reality was, this was all too new for him. Even if we would’ve just converted his crib or bought him a race car or Mickey Mouse bed, it would’ve served as a distraction, jungle gym, or a big toy. We discovered by Day 2 of the transition, that the bed itself was so distracting and different, we were just better off moving the bed out of the room and putting the mattress on his floor. The amazing thing was, he was a lot more calm, and seemed to fall asleep faster on a simple mattress. It doesn’t look cute — in fact his entire room is so bare at this point, it kind of breaks my heart after all that masterminding and decorating I did before he was even born — but you quickly learn with kids that those cutesy material things don’t matter. It’s about what’s practical, safe, and gets the job done.
- Don’t obsess over where (in the room) he sleeps – My son sleeps on the floor most days and nights, and oftentimes likes to have his head or part of his body on his giant stuffed panda. This really bothered me at first, and I was obsessed with him sleeping the “right way” in his bed. But the truth is, as long as he’s comfortable and sleeping through the night, or for a full nap, where he sleeps in the room doesn’t matter. I do, however, move him into his onto his bed and cover him with the blanket before I go to bed at night, just because it’s such a long stretch. He sleeps through this of course. I believe that he will eventually learn that is more comfortable to sleep in the bed, but for now, I am letting him transition at his own pace.
- Keep all bedding and stuffed animals consistent with what was in the crib – This can be tough, especially when you are tempted to buy a brand-new character bed set to match the adorable bed frame you just bought. Think about this carefully first. I read on various parent threads that keeping the linens consistent while transitioning was very helpful. I literally stripped the fitted sheet and all the blankets off of his crib and put it straight on his toddler mattress on the floor — rather than using fresh or new linens. I wanted to have a familiar smell and familiar setting ease him into to this big change. Once again, it’s not cute, but it’s not about that right now.
- Be flexible, and understand that sleep times and duration may be effected – This was really hard for me to accept (surprise, surprise!). Our bedtimes have been all over the place for the past month, and I’m pretty sure he’s actually dropping his nap (more on that later). But being consistent with when nap/quiet time starts and stops, and trying to get him to bed and keep the routine the same as before, has been key. We snuggle him a lot longer at nights, read a couple extra books, and once the lights go out, we stay in bed with him for a little while. I know the laying-in-bed-with-the-toddler-thing is considered to some as a big no-no, but we feel that this is what he needs right now. He usually conks out within the first 10 minutes of snuggle time, and sleeps about 10-12 hours straight. While my husband and I are firm believers in the necessity of teaching our child to learn to sleep on his own, I can only imagine how insecure and scared he must be in this new situation. I imagine we will stop doing this in a month or so.
So, hang in there, Parents! It’s a tough transition, but remember, it’s much more difficult for them than it is for us. Plus, like all of these tricky phases, it will pass before you know it.