A Survival Guide For An Early Toddler Bed Transition


toddler sleepMy son has always been a climber, more content playing on the outside of his jumper than the inside at around 7 months old. The jumper was trashed a good two months earlier than I was ready to depart with it. His ability to climb out of it made it unsafe to put him in during a bathroom break. He also saw his crib as a rock climbing wall. We were able to lower the mattress low enough to get ahead of his escape tactics until he was 17 months old.

With the mattress on the lowest setting for just a week after his previous escape attempts, he was climbing out of bed every night. Requiring me to hold him until he fell asleep at bedtime and repeating that in the middle of every night.

I was more exhausted during that week than I had been when he was first born. You don’t realize how much the lack of sleep affects you until you have it back again. But above my own desire to not fall asleep at work, I was also extremely concerned about his well-being. I asked my pediatrician if there were any products she could recommend to help keep him in bed. She responded that it seemed like he was ready for the toddler bed.

Well, he might have been ready for the toddler bed, but my husband and I certainly were not!

I was very worried about the transition. The internet did not come to my aid, as every article I could find about the toddler bed transition was geared to parents of kids who were 2-3 years old. For example, “Let your child pick out his new sheets!” Great way to get a 3-year-old excited, but a 17-month-old? While I love to think that my child is a genius whose talents have yet to be fully unleashed and appreciated by the public at large, he wasn’t excited by characters, animals or trucks at that point. And much of the other advice readily available seemed to be more applicable for older toddlers. To get through this big step in our family, we had to kind of fumble through this transition. Here are my takeaways…

Get used to the new bed.

My dad helped us get the bed set up during the day on a Saturday. We not only gave him time to jump in and out of it and get used to seeing it without the handrails (before we had put up the side rail), but it just so happened to work with our schedule that we didn’t sleep at home that night. So he had Sunday to play on the bed as well. It wasn’t a shock once bedtime came.

Keep your routine as much as possible.

Even with the big-boy bed, we still gave Daddy hugs and kisses, brushed teeth, sat down with books, and had the nighttime bottle. We swayed in the rocking chair while I sang some songs, and then I moved him into his bed and then left the room. I gave him ten minutes to calm himself. The first night, he wailed and climbed in and out of bed, but was quiet within those ten minutes. I checked up on him after about 20 minutes and found him asleep on the rocking chair. We moved him into bed, and he stayed asleep that night. After about 3 or 4 nights, he stayed in bed through the night.

That’s not to say that even now, eight months later, he doesn’t still climb out of bed in an attempt to delay bedtime. But even if he climbs out in protest, he will get back in for the night.

Add a sleep-aid toy.

I found an elephant that played music and projected lights at a retail mega-chain for about $25. Allowing my son to pick his lights and music is now part of our bedtime routine. When it was introduced, it was a way to add another comfort item to the situation. It was also something fun for him that was strictly associated with bed. 

Patience is key.

It did take us a few days for the adjustment to hold. And still, there are times when the lack of railings are an invitation to protest my saying a final “goodnight.” But this is now his routine, and he’s also adapted pretty well to sleeping in other beds while away from home.

I found that as with most transitions, it was important for me to pay attention to what was already working, listen to the cues he was giving me, and adapt the basic advice I was finding elsewhere to fit our family dynamics.

What are your best tips for transitioning to a toddler bed?