Navigating Toddler Sleep Transitions

Navigating Toddler Sleep Transitions

- in Featured, Parenting

Moving from the crib to a “big kid” bed is a major milestone for young children and their parents.

Just when you have your sleep routine down, this transition is either quickly needed or can occur without much notice. Parents who work or have a hard time with disrupted sleep, can become desperate for a solution.

One night last year, I put my daughter to be in her crib and she was furious. She wanted out. She had enough of the limitations of her crib and she was determined to find a way out. That’s the night I knew we had to make the switch.

After months of practicing our bedtime routine, sometimes having to use the ferber method, I found myself back at square one. I didn’t want her to come sleep in my bed, so the work to find a way to make this transition stick started. I became frustrated and worried we were in for another saga of overnight sleep struggles.

I talk with other moms about their family sleep problems and obstacles. You quickly realize you’re not alone praying every night to make it through without your child waking up.

So I set out to find out what the local experts recommend. Every child is different, but the advice doesn’t waiver too much.


Dr. Tracy Lim is part of the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric Institute and the Cleveland Clinic’s Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center.

She says parents should prepare for a transition from the crib to a bed at around age 3, but it could happen sooner.

Here are the three signs that it’s time to make the switch:

1. If your child outgrows his or her crib based on height or weight.
2. If they start trying to climb out of the crib.
3. If they’re doing well with potty training and need to have access to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

She says safety issues need to be monitored closely.

“If they’re getting out of the crib, we worry about safety and falling,” Dr. Lim says. “If they really are trying to potty train and they can’t get out of the crib, then it’s going to hinder the potty training.”

She says most parents opt for a twin or full size bed instead of a toddler bed. I actually tried a toddler bed and it failed miserably.

The mattress was from the crib and it so firm that at this point it felt too uncomfortable. Once I made the switch to a full mattress, the routine clicked … for a while.

Soon enough, my daughter was getting out of the bed and tried to escape her bedroom.

If that happens, Dr. Lim advices parents re-route their little ones right back to their bed.

“For those little ones that do like to climb out of bed, because they sense that freedom, I usually recommend to the parents just to keep walking them back into the bed so that they understand that they’re not going to be able to come sleep with the parents,” Dr. Lim says.
If that doesn’t work out well, she says you can sit in the doorway. Occasionally she recommends parents ween themselves out of the room instead of the child.

“I’ll recommend a little bit of a weeing technique where they can bring a chair into the child’s room and sit with their back to the child in the room and then after the child gets used to that they can move the chair a little bit closer to the door and then finally they can just sit in the doorway with the chair with their back to the child, so that they provide kind of a human gate so the child knows they really shouldn’t be coming out of their room,” Dr. Lim says.

You can set up a gate at the door, but don’t lock the door to prevent problems during an emergency.


If your child is constantly waking up in the middle of the night, it’s not too late to re-train them to self sooth and go back to sleep on their own.

Dr. Lim says you should wait 5 minutes, then briefly visit the child and tuck them back in bed, then wait another 5 minutes. Repeat the 5 minute intervals for up to 15 minutes.

If it goes on past this point within the same night, repeat the entire thing starting back at 5 minutes.

She says it typically takes three to five nights to train your child.


The bedtime routine is key. Putting your child down at around same time every night is important. I aim to do bath time, relax time with a few books and then bedtime every evening.

Sometimes I even use a projector for stars and moons on the ceiling to get my daughter to relax and think about something else instead of trying to avoid bedtime. It helps to talk about what you’re seeing and the colors of the stars.

If the above advise isn’t working, then Dr. Lim says your child’s pediatrician might recommend a sleep specialist.

The Cleveland Clinic’s behavioral health specialists at the sleep disorders center can help counsel parents who are hitting major roadblocks.

“Sleep is one of those frustrating things, because as a parent, especially those working parents, if you’re child is not sleeping it really is rough on the parent as well as the child,” Dr. Lim says.

Don’t give up. She says co-sleeping is not a safe option and you should try to help your child through this transition before you pass out while trying.

“If the child is constantly needing a parent present to fall asleep, they really don’t develop their own ability to put themselves to sleep,” Dr. Lim says.

About the author

Lindsay McCoy
Lindsay McCoy is a Summit County native and a working mom on the go! She’s an anchor and reporter for WFMJ-TV the NBC affiliate in Youngstown. The Kent State University alum started her news career in radio news at 1590 WAKR in Akron. When she’s not running around with a camera and a tripod, she’s playing with her 1-year-old daughter, Allison. She loves to find ways to create fun memories by visiting local playgrounds, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Akron Zoo! Lindsay also loves to decorate, search for cute outfits for Allison, and try new activities at home for her to learn and still have fun, even with a busy schedule.

1 Comment

  1. I thought at this age the routine won’t be that important but it still is. You cannot trick the nature I guess. I’ve read the new book on sleep training toddler lately: and I find it very useful. We’re finally making a visible progress here.

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