Ask Dr. Sears: From Crib to Bed

by William Sears

Ask Dr. Sears: From Crib to Bed

Q My son is 2½ years old and we are expecting a baby girl in July. We just decorated a new room for our son with a brand new bed. We have been telling him about it for about two months and he was anxiously awaiting the finished product. Now that it’s done and the bed is set up, however, he won’t sleep in it. He goes into the new room and gets under the covers while he takes his bottle; then, when he is finished, he gets back up, gathers all his stuffed animals and heads for the room where his crib is. What can we do to make this transition easier?


You are wise to start moving your toddler out of your room and into his own bedroom in preparation for the new baby. This is especially true if you plan on welcoming your new baby into your bed to enjoy co-sleeping. If your toddler is still in your bedroom when his sister comes, he will naturally want to crawl into bed with Mom and Dad once he sees them snuggling with the new baby. Most children will transition out of the crib between 18 months and 2½ years. It’s more a matter of the crib no longer being a safe place to leave a child unattended than it is a matter of a child wanting to move into a toddler bed. Here are some ways to transition a child from a crib to a toddler bed in his own room.


Sell the idea. Make a special family trip to the “big boy bed” store. As with picking out a potty for toilet training, kids are more likely to use the bed they choose. Also, let him pick out his own bedding. Set the bed up at home, but don’t pressure your child to sleep there. Have him put his teddy bear to sleep in the bed, and read stories there. Try napping there as well. Help him get to know the new bed as a comfy, safe place to be. If you sense that your child is resisting the idea of hanging out there, back off and try again in a week or two. Don’t force the issue. Explain to him, in an upbeat and positive way, what the bedtime plan is going to be. Focus on what your child is gaining  — his own place to sleep  — rather than where he is not going to sleep anymore.


Continue your usual bedtime routine for a while. Just because you child has a new place to sleep, doesn’t mean he is happily going to fall asleep on his own. You may have to sit next to his bed and read him a bedtime story until he is fully asleep. If your toddler still has some nighttime separation anxiety, you may need to lie down on a mattress next to his bed until he falls fully asleep, or even sleep in his room beside his bed for a few nights.


Try the “fade away” strategy. Once your child is used to going to sleep in his own bed with you there, you can work on helping him go to sleep without you there. I call this “fading away.” It can be done as quickly or as slowly as you feel is right for your child.


Snuggle to sleep. Lie in bed with your child while he falls asleep. If using a crib mattress, sit on the floor and lean over to snuggle with him. Don’t leave until your child is completely asleep. If you try to sneak away early and your child wakes up, he’ll realize that you aren’t actually falling asleep with him and he may become stressed about this new arrangement. While sitting next to your child’s bed, gradually dim the lights. You can even sit there and read your own book using a flashlight or a small book lamp. Once your child gets used to falling asleep with you lying or sitting beside him, you can begin gradually moving yourself away at increasing distances night after night. Begin moving a few feet from your child’s bed, then across the room, and then finally out the door. Fading away from your child’s dependency on your physical presence is a gradual process, like weaning from the breast. How long it will take depends upon the separation sensitivity of your child.


Move in and out. If your child doesn’t want you to leave the room, tell him you have to check the laundry, go get your book, or any other excuse you can come up with to leave the room. Step out of the room for ten seconds, then come right back and sit down again for a while. Over a few weeks, gradually lengthen the time you step out of the room. Use a catch phrase each time you leave, such as “Just one minute” or “I’ll be right back.” If your child gets anxious during the seconds or minutes you are out of the room, sing a song while you are gone. Leave his door open so he can hear you singing. You will eventually find that you are out of his room more than you are in his room. Periodically check on your child by peeking your head in the door. Your child will eventually fall asleep without your presence.


Whatever sleep strategy you use, be sure to relieve your child’s nighttime anxiety by helping him develop a healthy attitude about sleep. You want him to learn that sleep is not only a pleasant state to enter, but a safe one to remain in.}]