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Make Room for Baby

Tips to transition toddler from crib to bed

I admit it, I am a helicopter mom hovering over my two daughters like an AH-64 Apache helicopter monitoring every aspect of their development.

So when it came time to transition my then 2-year old daughter Riley out of her crib in the nursery to make way for her 5-month old baby sister Ryan, I had some concerns about the timing and whether it was too soon.

According to Deborah Lin-Dyken, a pediatric sleep disorders expert, “there is no set time to replace a child’s crib with a regular or toddler bed, although most children make the switch between ages 1½ and 3½.” Since Riley had just turned 2, I figured we were comfortably in the middle of that range.

Up until this point, Ryan had been sleeping in a bassinet in our bedroom. Night after night my husband lovingly reminded me about the weight limit on it and that Ryan was well over it. She was a baby barracuda! This child didn’t miss any meals. She had the extra chubby cheeks to prove it. We could have easily created a second nursery for Ryan, as Lin-Dyken suggests in an article on BabyCenter.com. She says that toddlers may feel threatened by a new baby taking over their crib. My husband Dave and I weren’t worried about that. Our main focus was getting some extra bang for our buck since our nursery furniture was in perfectly good condition.

With that settled, we put our transition plan in place. First order of business: Get my mind right for the big event.

Tears would be shed for sure, mostly mine. Sleepless nights would go on for days, mostly for me. Solid concentration would be needed. A few days off from work would do the trick.

Phase Two: Get Riley excited about the big move.

I spent a small fortune on design magazines to come up with a theme for the room. I checked so many design websites I lost count. Lin-Dyken recommends getting your child involved in the process, letting her pick out new sheets featuring a favorite cartoon character, for instance. Even though Riley loved Dora the Explorer at the time, we weren’t sold on featuring Dora and Boots in her room. Ask any parent about their child’s favorite cartoon character and they’ll tell you it changes from one minute to the next. Riley thought Barney was cool for a while, too. Our goal was to create a room that she could grow into and enjoy for years to come. A fairy tale princess theme won in the end. I figured it would also be perfect for her teen years when most girls go from princesses to drama queens!

Phase Three: Get a bed.

Lin-Dyken encourages parents to take their toddlers along on the shopping trip or consider getting a bed from a relative or a friend whose child has outgrown it. Telling a toddler that a bed belonged to a cousin she adores can be an easy way to get her excited about transitioning to a bigger bed.

If buying a bed, Lin-Dyken suggests toddler beds that look like a regular bed but use a crib mattress. Many come with built-in guardrails. Some of my girlfriends who also are moms suggested a regular twin bed, saying it wouldn’t take up much room and would leave room for a play area and a desk for homework later. It sounded ideal, but would it work for our home? One of the hazards of living in a vacation destination is that your house often doubles as a hotel. My husband and I have large, extended families that like to visit. During spring break, summer and Christmas our home often resembles a makeshift shelter with air mattresses all over the place. We talked it over and settled on a queen-size bed. It would be the perfect pick for our little princess. It also gave us the option of offering Riley’s room to out-of-town guests.

Phase Four: Buy a guardrail.

No stress here, we chose full-length rails and put them up on both sides of the bed to make sure there was no chance of her falling out of bed. We also put a baby monitor in the room to listen out for any problems.

Phase 5: Execute plan.

Lin-Dyken suggests throwing a big kid bed party, inviting family and friends to celebrate the big event. We chose to go low key. On the day of the big move, my husband and I ran Riley ragged from the park to the mall to the park again and back home. By bedtime she was so exhausted she didn’t care where she slept. We were, too. We put her in bed, kissed her goodnight and turned off the light. No stress, no arguments, no tears for her or me!

She slept peacefully through the night. I was worried, though. According to Lin-Dyken “it takes a certain amount of cognitive development for a child to understand that a bed has imaginary boundaries that he or she must stay within.” She warns that if your toddler constantly gets out of bed or wanders around the house, he may not be ready for the transition. Lucky for us, Riley did just fine.

She is 4½ now and still loves her big girl bed and big girl room. Ryan is almost 3. We recently converted her crib to a toddler bed. We followed some of Lin-Dyken’s suggestions such as lowering her crib mattress as low as possible before we converted her crib. We’re also considering another suggestion, putting her big girl bed in the same place as her crib.

Eventually we’ll get a real bed for her room but there won’t be any stress involved. We already know what’s going in there: Riley’s queen-size bed. You see every night at bed time my girls refuse to part ways and go to their separate bedrooms. They argue nightly, “We want to sleep together.” We’re planning a shopping trip soon, this time for twin beds. I might even let them pick out sheets with Dora and Boots on them.

Deiah Riley is the morning news anchor for ABC Action News.

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