Navigating Toddler Sleep Transitions

Navigating Toddler Sleep Transitions

Just when you have your child’s sleep routine down, you realize it’s time for the big kid bed. This can happen without much notice.

One night last year, I put my daughter 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 (a sleep method to teach your child to self-sooth), I found myself back at square one. I didn’t want her to come sleep in my bed, so I had to start to find a way to make this transition. I became frustrated and worried we were in for another saga of overnight sleep struggles.

I talk with other moms about their family’s 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.

Making the Switch

Dr. Tracy Lim, a pediatrician with the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric Institute and the Cleveland Clinic’s Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center, 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.

Lim says safety issues need to be monitored closely.

“If they’re getting out of the crib, we worry about safety and falling,”  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-sized bed instead of a toddler bed.

If your children leave the room after being in a new big kid bed, Dr. Lim advises parents to 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,”  Lim says.

If that doesn’t work out well, she says you can sit in the doorway. She advises parents to wean themselves out of the room instead of the child.

“I’ll recommend a little bit of a weaning technique where (parents) can bring a chair into the child’s room and sit with their back to the child in the room,” Lim says. “After the child gets used to that, they can move the chair a little bit closer to the door. 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.” 

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-soothe and go back to sleep on their own.

Lim says you should wait five minutes, then briefly visit the child and tuck them back in bed, then wait another five minutes. Repeat the five 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 five minutes.

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

All About Routine

The bedtime routine is key. Putting your child down at around the same time every night is important. I aim to do bath time, relax 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 advice isn’t working, Lim says your child’s pediatrician might recommend a sleep specialist.

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

Lindsay McCoy is a Northeast Ohio Parent Blogger “Mommy on Assignment.” Look for more of her blogs here.

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1 Comment

  1. I can totally agree with the text. It’s pretty similar to what Susan Urban from is saying and writing in her books (that I love!) – it’s TEACHING to self-sooth what’s important, not training like a dog, right? Helping the development process.

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