In my last article I wrote about waiting until age three to make the move from crib to bed. Your toddler will have an easier time adjusting to the invisible boundaries of the room if you wait until they can cognitively grasp the idea of staying in their own bed. If they are making the transition from the family bed, the similar ideas apply. Here are some tips on how to successfully move your toddler to their own bed.
Make a big deal about the transition – make a big deal about this event. Get your child involved. Maybe your toddler could pick out the sheets or a new lovey for the new bed.
Create sleep rules – establish what the rules will be and make sure everyone knows what they are. Have fun together by making a poster with pictures with no more than 4 “rules” on it. Examples would be 1) lay down 2) close my eyes 3) stay in bed 4) go to sleep. Along with the sleep rules, a regular bedtime routine helps your toddler with predictable routines. They can decide which pajamas to read and which books to read, but you decide when and where they are going to sleep.
Timing of bedtime – a bedtime that is too early or too late will cause for bedtime antics! By the age of 3-4 years old for your preschoolers bedtime should be 4 to 4.5 hours after they wake from their afternoon nap or 12 hours after they wake if they are no longer napping. This means a bedtime between 6-7:30pm is common at this age. Wind down with a 15 to 30 minute relaxing bedtime routine which end with you leaving the room while your child is sleepy but awake.
Plan for escapes – a jack-in-the-box will jump out of bed repeatedly. Consistently take your preschooler back to their bed without much fuss or interaction from you. Say a little mantra that you repeat each time such as, “ I love you and it’s time for sleep”. Be prepared to do this many times until they learn this expectation.
Make the room safe – secure furniture such as dressers and bookshelves to the walls so there is no way your preschooler can hurt themselves. Limit the amount of toys and distractions in the room while they are making this transition. Sometimes families will put a gate in the doorway, making the bedroom similar to a big crib.
Preschooler clock – invest in a clock that changes colour to let your little one know when it is okay to wake and leave their room. Putting a lamp on a timer to turn on at a reasonable time works the same way. It gives a visual cue of when to get out of bed.
If your little one is making the transition from the family bed to their own bed, a more gentle and gradual approach may work better as you fade yourself out of the room. This is a big transition from sleeping beside someone to sleeping alone.