Guidelines for Easing the Transition from Crib to Bed

She learns to pull herself to standing. Soon she is cruising ’round and ’round the crib, instead of going down for a nap. Then she begins to bounce up and down. Before long, she catapults over the top — generally landing with a loud thud. A long silence follows, then a heart-stopping wail.

It’s high time for a big-girl bed.

Your first task in this transition is to make your child’s room as safe as their crib used to be. This means fresh, aggressive childproofing.

  • Check furniture such as bookshelves for stability. If need be, fasten furniture to the wall.
  • Put locks on dresser drawers — toddlers love to pull out drawers and use them as stair steps to the top of a piece of furniture.
  • Replace standard electrical outlet covers with childproof covers. I prefer these to the plastic-cap-type that are inserted into the outlet. The plastic caps are easily removed by an adult and then lost, leaving the plug uncovered. Worse yet, the plugs can be removed by children who will put them in their mouths while exploring the outlet.
  • Make sure mini-blind, drapery, and curtain cords are well out of reach
  • Remove any toys or other small objects that could be a choking hazard.
  • Put any potentially hazardous materials, such as disposable diapers, in the closet and install a childproof latch on the closet door.

Next, make her room a place where she feels safe — especially at night.

  • Night lights are important, but at this age many kids want even more light than that. A 15- or 25-watt bulb in a lamp can keep the monsters that “live under her bed” at bay. Put the lamp on a timer so that it goes on at bedtime and off when it is time to wake up. This serves two very useful purposes. First if your child does wake up during the night, she won’t be as frightened as she would be in the dark. Also, you can begin telling her that when she wakes up, if her lamp is still on, it’s still night-night time.
  • Kids love stories at this age, so it’s a wonderful time to introduce a cassette tape, CD, or even a MP3 player that your child can learn to turn on and off all by herself. There are lots of great story tapes available now for children. Investing in a few of these is smart. It’s an even better investment to make your own. There are no sounds in the world that are as comforting as mom’s and dad’s voices.
  • You might want to install a sturdy, metal child gate that swings open. Do not use a wooden, accordion style gate — both for your convenience and her safety. Let your child see you assembling the gate. When it’s in place, make a game of opening the gate and walking through it, then closing it and opening it again. Next close the door with you both inside. Explain to her that the gate is there to help her stay safely in her own room. When she’s comfortable with this, leave the room and stand just outside. Remind her that while she is in her room, she will be safe. Walk out of her sight and come back so that she gets used to being alone, inside her room, with the gate in place. You have just re-created the safety of her crib — only larger.
  • Just before bedtime, tell her again that the lamp will be on as long as it’s nighttime. Remind her that while it is on she needs to stay in her room. When you put her to bed, help her turn on her tape player and, after your normal good night hugs and kisses, leave closing the gate behind you.

Your child will undoubtedly test you to see if you will enforce the “night-night time in your room” rule. She will probably stand at the gate and call for you to come and let her out– if you are lucky.

She also might cry mercilessly and try to make you feel guilty for confining him to his room. When this does happen, check on her to make sure she has not been awakened by a bad dream or she is not sick. Feel free to go into her room and help her get comfortable again so that she can go back to sleep. Let her know that she can read a book, listen to a tape, or play with her toys (since you can’t stop it, don’t make a fuss over it).

But she can’t leave her room till morning!

Leave and be prepared for an unhappy child. She will probably try to manipulate you into opening the gate and letting her come into your room. Children will often respond to new rules by testing them. Don’t give in.

Unless you have decided that you want to have a family bed, teaching your child to sleep through the night in her own room is a real gift to the whole family.

Medical Review on: September 12, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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