1. Set up a bed time. We found that the less consistent we were with enforcing times to go to sleep, the more our toddler struggled to actually fall asleep.
2. Get a night light. In the crib, there’s not as much that our son could see but in a toddler bed, suddenly the whole room comes into view and closet doors, toys, curtains and wall decorations can be distracting when your little one is trying to close his eyes. Sometimes our son would actually get up out of bed and continue to play in the dark!
3. Introduce the toddler bed as something fun. We found our son’s race car bed on Craigslist so we showed him the picture of it before we picked it up to see if he was interested. He looked excited just to see it on my husband’s phone so we knew he would love it in person. When we brought it home, we set up Cars bedding and kept clapping and encouraging him to help us get it ready for him. I think this made the whole experience start off on the right foot.
4. Be their cuddle buddy for a few nights. We have spent over a month sleeping in our son’s room with him (taking turns). Although we never stay the full night, we do generally stay until he’s sound asleep– about 20 minutes to an hour. For some parents it may take longer than a month or two, but it’s worth it; our son now understands that when we say it’s bedtime he has to grab his blanket and go to his bed. He falls asleep faster and doesn’t try to get up anymore after he is already in bed.
5. Don’t give in to excuses. At the beginning, our son would ask for juice or cheese as he is laying down because he knew it would buy him more time outside of his room. Then, once he was past his bedroom door, he would make a sprint for the couch to watch TV. This hasn’t happened in awhile but I would fall for it every time, while my husband was stricter. He didn’t allow him to get out of bed period, and only water was allowed.
6. Try music. We started out with a CD of toddler favorites but then switched over to lullaby tracks because he was paying too much attention to the lyrics of the playtime tunes for it to lull him. Now, he’s out within 20 minutes of us turning on the music, because he’s calmer.
Note: Music apps on your phone might work, too, but we wanted to avoid loud commercials and the risk of our phone falling asleep from inactivity.
7. Keep the crib set up, just in case. While we were training our son to sleep in his bed, he would fight us on laying down and staying in it, so my husband started telling him that if he didn’t lay in his ‘big boy bed’, he would have to sleep in the crib. Usually, he opted for his cool, race car bed, but there were random nights where he was too tired and picked his crib. We let him sleep in there on select occasions because we understood the transition would take time.
8. Make sure everything else in your house is quiet. We don’t live in a mansion and sound does travel through walls and rooms. There were nights where our dogs eating out of their food bowls or my husband walking on the living room floor boards would cause my son to wonder what was going on with everyone else while he was being told to go to sleep. His curiosity sometimes made him get up and investigate or at least give me a tougher fight. Now, we make sure to set the ‘sleep mood’ in our entire house when he’s going to sleep.
9. Talk to them and make sure to say goodnight. On nights when I had to leave before my son actually fell asleep, I would explain to him that mommy was tired and had to go to sleep and that I hoped he would have a good night and sweet dreams. This helped him understand that I wasn’t abandoning him and that everyone needs to sleep! Sometimes I would lay out his activities for the next day to give him incentive to go to sleep (i.e. tomorrow dad will take you to the pool; tomorrow you will see Grandpa). The more I walked him through the sleep process, the less anxious he became.
10. Choose comfortable pajamas. We have noticed that when the climate is warmer, our son will take off his plush pants in the middle of the night then go back to sleep. If he’s wearing footie pajamas, he makes us change them before he falls asleep. And if he’s wearing socks, he takes those off, too. Even though he sleeps with a fan (something else to try if you haven’t), we try to remember which types of pajamas he hates.
11. Be patient. We were scared when we started this transition. The fact that we kept his crib in the room reflects on how much we doubted that we could pull off this training, but it hasn’t been miserable. Some nights we have had to lay down with him for a couple of hours versus a few minutes, but he’s been progressively adjusting and we are proud of the fact that he no longer sleeps in his crib.