Monday, May 4, 2015

The Toddler Bed Transition...Or Not


I knew several months ago that I wanted to transition Gabriel from the crib to a bed sometime in late spring as we prepare for his baby brother's arrival. Age-wise it seemed entirely doable because he'll be about 22 months when his brother arrives, which meant we wanted to transition him at about 20 months. Bringing a new baby home is a big enough transition in and of itself, so I wanted to get him stabilized and feeling comfortable well before we threw the big brother curve-ball at him.

Plus, I was envisioning having to teach him to stay in the bed and not run around playing at night in addition to waking up multiple times to nurse a newborn...and that just seemed miserable to me. Had I not brought this topic up, I don't think it would have been on my husband's radar at it took awhile (a few months at least) to discuss it, get him on board with the timing, find a bed, and get the transition process started.

How and when to transition a toddler from a crib to a bed is a BIG deal in the parenting world - because it has the potential to be a very big deal to our little ones and undoubtedly impacts the entire family in some way. I'm not here to tell anybody how or when I think they should make this leap; instead, I would simply like to jot down what has worked (and not worked) for us thus far.

Transition Attempt #1
Let me go ahead and spare you lots of details and say that our very first attempt was unsuccessful. Why? Well, let's just say that trying to make the switch on the very same day you've gone insane with nesting and completely rearranged your child's bedroom is most likely not the best day to begin. Oops.

Additionally, we thought we would ease into it by simply laying the mattress on the floor (no bed frame) first because we've known others that have been successful with this approach and it would ensure that if he rolled around and slid off he wouldn't fall and hurt himself. However, in hindsight I think the mattress alone was simply too "wide open" and uncomfortable for Gabriel after many, many months of being surrounded by bars.

Transition Attempt #2
Two weeks after our failed first attempt we had Gabriel's bed-frame built and felt that it was a good weekend to try again. I wasn't sure if we should begin with bedtime or a nap, but I happened to wash Gabriel's favorite blanket and pull it out of the dryer right before his nap, so he eagerly helped me carry it back to his room and happily plopped it on his bed instead of in his crib. I decided it was a sign to start then and there.

Day 1:
This time I had the wisdom to realize (especially since it was day time) that I would have to stay by Gabriel's side if I wanted him to calm down and sleep. I explained everything to him, laid him down on the bed, then went to sit down in the chair across the room and wait. And wait.

Of course he wanted to run around, but I made it clear to him that he needed to stay on the bed. I allowed him to retrieve books or toys as long as he immediately brought them into his bed to look at. He tried to make a break for it and run out of the room once, but I startled him with a firm "no" and he plopped down mid-run right where my command had caught him and I laid him back down again with instructions not to leave the bed.

What followed was basically an hour of him rolling around, looking at books, standing up then sitting down, and all sorts of crazy toddler gymnastics before he tired out, laid down, and fell asleep. At that point I snuck out and he slept a good 2 hours and then some.

First nap in his toddler bed!

Night 1:
I took the same approach at bedtime by telling Gabriel I would stay near him as he fell asleep; I sat down in the chair in the dark and simply waited. Much to my surprise, he did not attempt to stand up or leave the bed a single time. It took nearly an hour for him to fall asleep, but he laid there quietly the entire time. Success!

Thankfully my husband and I made the smart decision to install our baby gate in the hallway right outside his room, so when he woke up at 6:30am and immediately ran and shook the gate I knew he was safe until I could reach him.

Day 2:
This was the day we saw the circus, so Gabriel's nap was pushed back later than normal and he fell asleep in the car on our way home. He was so tired we had no problems bringing him inside, laying him down, and letting him finish his nap in the bed.

Night 2:
The exact same thing happened as the first night, which means it took an hour but Gabriel remained calm and fell asleep without issues. More success!

However, Gabriel awoke at 4:30am and would not go back to sleep, even with me staying by his side for an hour. At the point I gave up and we got up for the day.

Day 3:
Because he woke up at 4:30am he was exhausted by the time we went to church. During the less-than-5-minute drive he fell asleep. He woke up and was so cranky we thought we were in for the worst mass ever...but by the grace of God he was amazingly well-behaved the entire hour. He then fell asleep on the drive home which point he was so tired he stayed asleep and proceeded to take an early nap in his bed after we brought him inside.

Night 3:
This time we tried to lay him down and let him fall asleep without me staying by his side...which didn't work. After at least 4 or 5 times of him running and opening his bedroom door I gave in and stayed with him. He then fell asleep after almost an hour.

It was on this night that, despite all our previous successes, we did the one thing I said we wouldn't do - which was "backtrack" and allow him to sleep in his crib. That night fed me a nice slice of humble pie as I defeatedly accepted the fact that Gabriel simply isn't comfortable enough yet to make the permanent transition to the toddler bed.

What made us throw in the towel? Well, he woke up at about 11:45pm...and would not go back to sleep in the bed. He was so worked up that he was bawling his eyes out and clinging to me as I tried to lay him down a few times. I sat by his side, sang to him, and did my best to comfort him so that after a few minutes he stopped crying. I tried to tell him I would stay in his room, but when I said anything about sitting in the chair (just a few feet away) he would lunge for a hug and begin bawling again.

This happened a couple times, at which point he began crying for Michael. I thought perhaps if Michael laid him down he would be okay, but even that didn't calm him down. He was upset with the thought of me sitting in the chair merely a few feet away from him, he barely managed to calm down with me literally right by his side, and he continued crying even after Michael joined me in staying by his side...which was when I knew: he was not going back to sleep in that bed that night without a major struggle that would leave everyone exhausted and him entirely miserable. Considering I was 34 weeks pregnant, my husband had work the next day, and Gabriel was clearly very upset, we decided it was not at all worth the struggle.

Gabriel calmed down immediately at the mere mention of his crib, so when we remade it and put him down he went right to sleep with no more tears. The following day we were amazed to see our normally happy boy in one of the most cooperative, cheerful moods ever...which solidified our belief that we did the right thing by not pushing him the night before.


So here we are. My due date is one month (!) from today, which means the toddler bed transition has been put on hold indefinitely. Michael and I have agreed that there simply isn't enough time at this point to try again and get him adjusted before our second baby is born, so we're not going to bother trying.

Realistically, the baby will sleep in the bassinet for a few months which buys us some more time...but I honestly don't know if Gabriel will even be ready to try the bed again by the time his brother needs a crib.

I have no idea what will happen, but we've already discussed the possibility that we may just need to invest in a second mini crib. It's not the solution I ever imagined us coming to, but depending on how things go with Gabriel's interest in the bed (or lack thereof) it may be the route we choose to follow.

Like many aspects of parenting, this is just one more example of how unique every single child is. It's impossible to say with confidence that "we WILL do x, y, or z" at any given point in time, because you never know what will work best for your child or your family until you get the chance to see for yourself how they react to things. Color me humbled once again.

"At its best, life is completely unpredictable."
-Christopher Walken


  1. Props to you, Mama, for respecting the needs of your child in these difficult situations!