How to Transition a Toddler from a Crib to a Bed

My sweet little 2-year-old.
My sweet little 2-year-old.

When to Train Your Child to Sleep in a Bed?

Our third child is on the way, and so the time arrived to take our petite just-turned-two-year-old and teach her the ways of the "big girl bed." Did I mention she would be sharing a bedroom with her almost 4 year old sister? Sure, we've done this transition once before with our oldest daughter, but this time around is different for several reasons: 1. Our 2-year-old is sharing a room with her sister instead of having a room to herself, which adds a new dynamic. 2. She has never been the naturally deep sleeper her sister is. 3. She tends to have a more rambunctious, less responsible personality than her sister. Differences for sure. Yet, we are trying a similar approach.

A Search for Helpful Hints in the Transition Process from Crib to Bed
At the beginning of this, yes, tiring training time I wondered what advice other people may have had for me on the actual PROCESS of training your toddler to sleep in a big bed. Mostly, advice I read online consisted of moving the child into a big bed only when absolutely necessary, making the transition exciting for your child, buying guardrails and safety proofing the rooms, and providing some constancy in their bedtime routine and experience. Those all seemed a bit obvious to me, though. I was hoping for actual training tips like how to keep my child in her bed, you know, besides tying her down.Any details and ideas? We parents are often required to venture out on unknown voyages armed mainly with knowledge of our individual children and wise guesses for success with them. No child is the same, no parent is the same, and no child-parent dynamic is equivalent. I realize one parent's recommendations of what works for their children may not work for mine or yours. Still, a few concrete examples for us to build on can sometimes be an encouragement. And so I'm sharing my adventures in bed training my two year old with you. Take some or all of these nuggets of experience with you, building on what you like or pitching what you don't. Hopefully, you can find something that works for you!

Set Your Sleep Training Goals
At barely two, it's my impression that my daughter needs to learn what to do at bedtime in a bed that can potentially allow more freedom. No matter how safe her room is, I don't want her roaming around playing when it's a time for bed and rest. Sure, I can "lock" her in the room and enjoy my time without interruption while assuming she'll eventually get tired and fall asleep. But, that's not the goal. My goal is that she LEARNS to actually sleep in her bed. As with any training this is a testing period for me as a mother to put concerted time and effort into her eventual success. However, intentional teaching brings about desired results in time that will make life easier down the road (ex: potty training). With any goal it's important to think, "What do I want my child to be capable of doing?" and then train them in such a manner that the goal can be achieved with time and patience. Right now, expectations are lower for her at 2 years old, sure, but if I want her to go to sleep at 3 years old in a easy and correct manner (rather than her jumping on her bed, tearing up her room, etc.) I need to teach her HOW from the start.

Establishing Bedtime Rules for your Toddler
During transitions we tend to be the kind of parents that slowly bring about change versus the ripping of the band-aid approach. So, our initial steps have been to stay in the room with her whether laying next to her or sitting at the end of her bed until she falls asleep. I know some skeptics may think we are teaching her to be dependent on our presence. However, initially we are simply trying to establish a few very important ground rules: 1. Stay in bed. 2. Stay in a laying position. 3. Be quiet. At two years old, this requires repetition and frequent intervention. Whereas before I simply read her a book, rocked her for a few minutes, kissed her good-night, and laid her in her crib to fall asleep on her own time, I now read her a book, tuck her in, and trap myself in the room with her until she falls asleep (time spans ranging from 20 minutes at best to 2 hours at worst) rather than moving on about my day or night. I'll admit it's a bit maddening at times, though after a while I began taking a book in to read to maintain some sense of sanity.

Intervening Methods: Discipline and Obedience during Sleep Training
Some intervening methods when she keeps sitting up or being noisy include verbal reminders such as "Shh!" or "Be quiet.", gently holding her hands down (which she actually hates) or putting my arm over her legs if she is moving them wildly, and physically laying her back down if she sits up and won't lay back down on her own. If she continues to disobey, we give her one warning that she will go to her crib (which she doesn't want, so this is a punishment for her) and then take her to her crib if noisiness and sitting up continues. After a 5-10 minute sometimes tearful visit to the crib, she is comes back to her big bed with a tendency to be more compliant and calm. Rarely, another crib visit is required. Each parent needs to decide their personal method of discipline for establishing their rules, but I think the important part is that you set boundaries for sleep time and you enforce them in a way that means something to your child. After two weeks of training, I saw improvements in that in my presence she never tries to escape out of bed, she rarely sits up, and she talks in a whisper about 80% of the time.

An Independent Bed Sleeper: Leaving the Room
The next step is leaving her in the room to fall asleep without my guidance, experimenting with the need for parental interventions. During this time, I leave the room after she calms down and shows signs of sleepiness, which can vary in time depending on the day. I want to still be there to establish rules during peak excitement levels, but leave the room before she falls asleep so that she her expectations shift from me being in the room as she falls asleep to being out of the room. I find once she acts sleepy, she'll rarely re-energize after I leave the room. If she does, I just have to start over again.

I've just recently shifted into our final steps. After going through our bedtime routines, I tuck her in, give her hugs and kisses, say good-night, and LEAVE. She's always eager to say "bye-bye," and I think there is a part of her that enjoys the idea of such independence. Her older sister (fortunately a quite responsible child) is instructed to be a good "teacher" by laying quietly in bed after I leave. I immediately turn on the monitor. If noises abound, we still intervene by going in the room and telling her to "be quiet." We are giving her some wiggle room to make noise, but not allow it to escalate to too much excitement. I have noticed that she has ALWAYS stayed in bed and only occasionally has been caught sitting up. Basically, she know the rules of the bed and for two years old, she does a fairly good job following them. I don't worry down the road that she will be crawling out of bed and playing when it's time for sleep. She's still a bit talkative, but I have to remind myself she used to talk to herself in her crib a lot too before drifting off to sleep. Plus, she's just turned two years old. Anyone ever tried to keep a 2-year-old completely silent? Yep, it doesn't work, unless she's sound asleep. We still go in to quiet and calm her if she is too loud, but overall, she is LEARNING.

Relaxing the Bed Time Rules with Time
I believe there will be a point where she and her older sister can have a little more lenience and enjoy some chats and giggles before bed (though not play-time). I want them to be able to do so! But, first some boundaries and expectations must be set, so that my little one understands what it means when I lay her in bed and say "good-night." When we trained my older daughter, we never allowed her to have books in bed or extraneous cuddle toys (beyond her special sleep time pals), because they would distract her. But, now she lays in her bed looking at books before she falls asleep or talking to her extra cuddle toys because she has mastered the ability of putting herself to sleep and proven she will respect this time of rest.

Magic Sleeping Dust
I've shared my sleep-training journey thus far. Does anyone else have any ideas, success stories, or magic sleeping dust I can sprinkle on my 2-year-old to ensure a more rapid and consistent response to sleepy time? All advice or magic tricks welcome.

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Comments 15 comments

Kat07 profile image

Kat07 5 years ago from Tampa

Sounds like my 2-year-old. She transitioned to the toddler bed very well, and after a time or 2 of getting up, now stays on the bed until we come to get her. She does, however, flail about and play with her bed dolls quite a bit during some nap times, which means it either takes hours for her to go to sleep or she might skip the nap altogether. It sounds like you are doing everything that I would do. Any additional advice on girls sharing a room, especially when they are such different sleepers?

Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

I'm fortunate that my oldest daughter is a responsible little soul and loves sharing a room with her little sister. I think she likes when I tell her that SHE is teaching her little sister how to sleep by being a good example. So, often she will be. Also, because my oldest is a deeper sleeper, our littler one doesn't always wake her up if she fusses briefly. If we get her quiet quickly or get her out of the room quickly, then our older daughter has stayed asleep at times. We have actually gone in there during naps (or at night, though not so much) if our youngest wakes up prematurely and tell her to "go nigh-nigh." Then, sometimes we just leave the room and sometimes we stay for a few minutes if she seems a little upset, and she'll often go back to sleep. If our oldest is still sleepy she will willingly do the same. On the other hand, our 2 year old wakes up her older sister most mornings and today at nap time (after plenty of good sleep) I could hear over the monitor her yelling, "Wake up!" to her sister. :o) Overall, I've been pleased with the transition.

Sun-Girl profile image

Sun-Girl 5 years ago from Nigeria

Wonderful ideology which i so much enjoy reading from.Thanks dear for sharing.

Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

Thank you! Parenting is an experimental and learning process for sure.

Hi Hey Hello 5 years ago

Just have to say what an adorable child that is! Natural redheads are becoming sooooo much more rare these days! Yeah, there are fake redheads, but whatever; anybody can do that. But a real, true, redheaded is a rare sight these days! So beautiful! I wish that I was an all natural redhead... but sadly like most people I am not... oh well it's true rarity is what makes it so special.

Yes I know that was random, but I just felt like I had to say it. lol :)

Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

Haha! You know what? I have two natural redheads and my husband and I do not have red hair (some highlights and my husband's beard if he grows it out is red). They have the same color of hair as their aunt, my husband's sister, and for some reason it has come through our genes twice! I never dreamed that would happen, but I love it.

WallStickerDecals profile image

WallStickerDecals 5 years ago from US

An awesome tips you have here, thanks for sharing!

Maggie.L profile image

Maggie.L 5 years ago from UK

Great tips for settling your child into a 'big bed' for the first time. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

Thank you! We leave the room now each night, but we often have to return to quiet her. She's got a little spunky spirit and being two she's starting to exert her independence so she like to push the envelope a bit. :o) Good thing she's so cute and a sweetie pie. Training is still in process a bit, but much further along than before.

ThePracticalMommy profile image

ThePracticalMommy 5 years ago from United States

Thanks for the advice! We'll be transitioning my son to a todder bed soon. If you find any of that magic sleeping dust, let me know! ;)

Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

If I find any of that magic sleeping dust, I will package it up, sell it, and make a fortune. HA! Best of luck with your son. Probably if he's a little older it will be a little easier. We still have some nights where our little one has a hard time settling. She's also just hitting the "terrible twos" where she wants to exert her independence and will about everything. Help! ;o) Hehe.

susannah42 profile image

susannah42 5 years ago from Florida

Great ideas. Always looking for child raising tips.

cheerfulnuts profile image

cheerfulnuts 5 years ago from Manila, Philippines

I don't have my own kids yet, so I haven't realized how such simple activities (or inactivities?) need lots of planning, training, and patience. These are some great tips for moms and future moms! Btw, as tiring as it may seem to have kids, it still seems fun to have them around. A home feels incomplete without them. I miss having young kids around to play with. Most of my nephews and nieces are in their teens now. I enjoyed reading this hub, as it reminded me of the fun times I had with my young relatives years ago. =)

Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

Kids are tiring, but amazing! My mom watched our two daughters (2 and 4 years) the other day, and my husband was talking about how much he misses the noise and activity when they are gone... even though we both enjoy the rest from demands and chaos of kids every so often. I wouldn't trade my "job" as mommy for anything, you get paid in LOVE, hugs, and slobbery kisses. ;o)

celu49 profile image

celu49 5 years ago

We have 2 girls ages 5 & 2 who now sleep in the same room. My oldest had been a great sleeper until she heard all the night time attention her sister was getting at a yr old for NOT sleeping. We ended up putting them in the same room to make it easier on us and created a rule- if we can't hear you, you won't get in trouble! lol. Meaning, grab a book & read if you aren't sleepy, just stay in bed. This seemed to work for a few months, but the younger one just wouldn't go to sleep. We were in need of a new mattress & the one we had wasn't that bad, but no good for 2 ppl. So now my 2 yr old is a queen sized bed with no frame and my 5 yr old is in a queen sized the same room! It actually made for a really cool layout & no more lil sister jealousy over her sister having a bigger, better bed! Who would have thunk it?? Not me!! lol

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