Lara from Seattle asks:
Q: HELP! My toddler is too big for a crib and we have transitioned him into a toddler bed. He is destroying his room at night and I am going in there constantly trying to calm him down! We spend the last hour before bedtime reading while lying in bed and he takes a bath. Why does he suddenly become this barrel of energy when I leave?
I always recommend waiting to transition children from a crib to a toddler bed because as Lara has seen, sometimes it’s not as easy and exciting as we think it will be. They now have all this freedom and its exhausting trying to keep them in bed. The best time to transition to a toddler bed is once your child is at least 3 years old, and you feel they are developmentally and emotionally ready. At this age they will be able to understand rules and responsibilities better, and you’ll minimize the antics once they’ve transitioned. Yes, there are obviously situations where a bed might be necessary sooner, but if you can hold off, I would recommend doing so.
So how do you prepare them for the transition to a toddler bed? First, get them involved in the transition. Allow your child to choose their sheets or bedding, where the bed will be placed in the room, and how to decorate the room. This will help them get excited for the big transition and feel invested in the process. Next, prepare the space. Your child will have the freedom to get in and out of bed, so make their room completely safe. To minimize injury if they fall out of bed, put up bed rails or place the boxspring and mattress directly on the floor. Child-proof their room by securing heavy furniture to the wall, putting cords out of reach and removing anything that could pose as a safety risk. I would also recommend putting a safety gate in their doorway to prevent them from wandering around the house or falling down the stairs.
Once the stage is set, implement a good routine and schedule and set some rules around bedtime. A soothing bedtime routine is important so that they can wind down and get ready for sleep, but if they are already overtired by the time the lights are shut off, falling asleep becomes much more difficult. Instead of lying in bed quietly, they now have a second wind to begin a new activity, like destroying their room. To avoid the overtired state and a burst in adrenaline, ensure your child has a reasonable bedtime. Toddlers and preschool aged children usually do best with a bedtime between 7 and 8pm, even earlier for some kids.
Set some bedtime rules right away so that your child knows what is expected of them. If you send a firm, consistent message, there will be less room for negotiation. Avoid creating any habits that you don’t want to continue, like laying with your child while they fall asleep. You’ll just have to break those habits later on.
What if your child is misbehaving at bedtime? Children will only continue the behaviours the work for them. In Lara’s case, one of the reasons her son is destroying his room is because he’s getting reinforcement and attention. If Lara ensures his room is a safe environment and then reasonably ignores the behaviour, it will stop. Children crave any type of attention, negative or positive, so if we provide zero reinforcement, they will get tired of misbehaving.
Let’s not forget to praise our children when praise is due. If you child follows the bedtime rules, it’s important to provide lots of positive reinforcement to encourage the good behaviour. We all like to be told that we’re doing a good job, so lay it on thick to really send the message home. Bedtimes will become a breeze in no time!