:My two-year-old daughter spent her first night in her “big girl” bed! When she’s awake she seems to enjoy playing in it but still fussed when it came down to actually going to sleep. Do you have any suggestions for getting her to sleep in her bed on her own?
Transitioning to a toddler bed from a crib is a big step for children. They may feel excited, scared, and/or confused. The different environment of a new bed may take some getting used to. Your daughter may feel excited by the newness and have a hard time relaxing to sleep. She may feel uneasy in these different surroundings and, therefore, stay awake. Finally, now that her bed doesn’t keep her in any more, she may wonder what will happen if she just gets up. Despite these challenges, she will eventually be able to make the transition and adapt to her new bed. There are some things you can do to help her.
. Spend some “non-sleep” time in the bed. Exploring her bed during the daytime will help her become used to it. Sometimes kids are more willing to take a nap in a new bed then they are to spend the night in it. You could also lay with her in her new bed and read or talk. She could help you put the sheets and blankets on. She could arrange her stuffed animals on it, or put her babies to sleep there.
. Overlap when possible. When space and time allow, it can be useful to leave the crib up while you are introducing the new bed. This allows your child to become accustomed to the new bed gradually and on her own timetable. She can choose whether she wants to sleep in the crib or the bed. If she is having a hard time staying in the bed, she can return to the crib for awhile. Many of us, however, don’t have the luxury of keeping both beds up during the transition and there are other ways to help children adjust.
. Keep familiar things with her. As much as possible, keep her familiar things with her as she makes the move to the new bed. Pillows, blankets, stuffed toys, or pictures on the wall which move with her to her new bed will all help establish familiarity for her. Maintaining her familiar bedtime routine will also reassure her.
. Offer reassurance. You can offer your daughter various forms of comfort in her distress. Depending on what you are accustomed to, you could let her know you hear her feelings, “I know it is really different to be sleeping in a new bed. It will take a little getting used to.” You could stay awhile in the room her, sitting quietly or reading or singing. You could lay down with her in her new bed while she drifts off to sleep.
. Help her learn the limits of the bed. It doesn’t sound like she has figured out that she can get out of her bed yet, but she may discover this in the future. If she gets out of the bed, you can quietly and gently take her back and put her in. Depending on how into testing she is, she may repeatedly get out and come and find you. In that case you can become what we call the “human fence.” You can repeatedly (and in as boring a manner as possible) return her to her bed.
While this can be frustrating for parents, if you understand that she is just trying to figure out if she really needs to stay in bed now that there aren’t bars anymore, it is easier to keep your patience. It is best not to interact much with her when you are returning her to her bed. If there is a lot of reminding, cajoling, cuddling or anger, getting up becomes interesting and she will continue even longer. For this activity, you just have to pretend that you are the bars on the crib. You can lovingly, gently, firmly and quietly return her to her bed.