As a family sleep consultant, one of the most common issues I see is a child who has been transitioned to a big-kid bed too early, and is now having a lot of trouble getting to sleep and/or staying asleep. Creepy middle-of-the-night visits begin to occur at the parents’ bedside, or bedtime itself becomes a huge struggle with a lot of ups and downs, ins and outs, tears, and general stalling.
Not surprisingly, making this transition too hastily is often the culprit. A few of the most common reasons that parents transition too early include:
You need the crib for a new baby.
This can be a matter of practicality and I get it. But maybe there is an alternative. Perhaps borrow a crib from a friend or family member, or buy an inexpensive crib for one of your children to use – keeping in mind that what you spend on a crib has nothing to do with its overall safety. The ease of a transition can often increase quite dramatically even by waiting just a few extra months. Introducing a new baby to your firstborn is dicey enough; better to keep them in their usual surroundings for as long as possible.
Your baby has started climbing out of the crib.
An old favorite. But wait, this doesn’t have to signal the end of the crib! Indeed, it probably shouldn’t since most babies have the physical ability to make this climb way before they are developmentally ready to be sleeping in a bed.
Here are some options: A lot of cribs nowadays have a back that is higher than the front—turn that sucker around! All of a sudden what was once Kilimanjaro has now become Everest. Also, use a sleep sack. I’m a big fan of sleep sacks anyway, for their warmth and as part of a sleep routine. But they are also a wonderful deterrent for hightailing it out of the crib. Have a child who likes to escape from sleep sacks too? No problem! Put that baby on backwards, and zip it up the back. (*This is a good place to note that crib tents, which in the past were used to prevent escapes, are not safe and should not be used; neither should altering the construction of the crib in any way.)
Your child seems to “want” a bed.
Maybe your child has asked about a big-girl or big-boy bed. Or the child lingers a bit in an older brother’s or sister’s bed. Whatever the reason, I ask parents to consider this reason the most carefully, keeping in mind that at these young ages, many “wants” are projections the parents make onto the child. At the end of the day, the transition should happen because the parents AND the child are really, truly ready.
So when is that time, exactly?
Ideally, a child is in a crib until as close to age 3 as possible; some children who are smaller in size can stay in them even longer. The good news is that even if you have transitioned your child out of a crib prematurely doesn’t mean you can’t go back. Children can very often be successfully transitioned back to a crib once it becomes apparent that they were not yet ready, particularly if the transition was a recent one (less than six months).
Remember, a crib imposes physical limits, which are important for safety purposes, particularly for younger children who cannot yet cognitively grasp what it means to stay in a bed. A crib also offers psychological limits, something that, though it might not always seem that way, children are actively looking for. They will test and they will push, but that doesn’t mean they are ready for one of the biggest changes of their young lives too soon.
And besides, they are only babies and in cribs for so long. It can’t hurt to treasure that time for just a little bit longer, right?