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Ages & Stages: Ease the toddler bed transition woes

Imagine if you will, a new set of parents selecting a crib. They discover a new bed that can make the transition from crib to toddler bed and then to twin. It seems perfect. They spend the money. 

Flash forward 18 months, and the baby has refused to sleep in the crib – ever – and they are making the transition to the toddler bed thinking it will be the answer to their sleepless nights. A year later, the kid is sleeping on a mattress on the floor and the bed is mocking their dreams of a transition bed. My husband is still bitter. If I were to have a do-over, I know how I would have changed things, but for now I leave that to the experts to give the advice.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Sandra Olson of Bon Secours Primary Care–Highway 14 could have saved our house a headache and a half because her first piece of advice on making the transition to a toddler bed is to avoid making the change during a particular stressful time. She suggests having a sleep plan for every child in the home and revisiting it often to make sure every adult is on the same page. 

“Consistently following the plan is the key,” Olson said.

Transitions then become much easier for everybody.

Olson said the length of the bedtime rituals for transitioning to a toddler bed is not the important factor, but the fact that everyone in the household follows them. On nights when grandma puts our son to bed, we start the routine earlier, while my husband breezes through it in record time. No matter who does the routine, the activities and the order are always the same.

Like all things with children, the maturity level of each child should dictate how parents make the transition to a big kid bed. 

“Safety should always be at the forefront,” Olson said. 

While toddler beds are lower to the ground, some newer beds come with built in bed rails making the lower bed not always a necessity.

Parents and their tots making the transition might face obstacles, such as fears of monsters under the bed or a suddenly dark room. Use the tools you think are needed for your child to feel comfortable. It might help to incorporate a book on the subject into the bedtime routine. Olson recommends a night light and a bedtime ritual check of the closet and under the bed together so the child sees that there is nothing to fear.

Making it a big event can be helpful, as can putting the new bed in the same location as the old one. Olson recommends letting the child pick out the new sheets and blanket. If all that is not a help, it could also be time to wait just a bit longer.

In the end, my husband maintains that the one investment you need is a good mattress, because if all of the advice fails, you too will be sleeping on the floor with the kid wondering where it all went wrong, and the transition bed will still be laughing at you from the closet. But all is not lost.

“Some toddlers do better in a mattress on the floor,” Olson said.