From the Crib to the Bed – Small Steps to Big Change

toddler bed time

Any parent who’s been there knows that moving a toddler from the crib to a bed is a big transition. Think about how attached we get to some of our own things, and then magnify that 100x to account for the emotions of a toddler as they struggle to figure out the world around them. Now throw in the fact that you’re potentially disrupting the sleep routine you’ve worked so hard to build, and you’ve got yourself a scary proposition.

We recently went through this with our own son and had a pretty successful, painless transition. For us, it reinforced the importance of accomplishing big goals through small steps, which is a lesson that can be applied to anything in life.

Why the transition from crib to bed is tough

Before taking on any kind of big change in your life, I think it’s important to understand the reasons it might be difficult. This is not to discourage you, but simply to give you a better understanding of what you’re up against so that you can plan for it. For the transition from a crib to a toddler bed specifically, there are three main reasons that it’s a potentially troublesome change:

1. Your child is used to the crib. Any parent can tell you how delicate a process sleep is, and how mind-blowingly better life gets when your child starts sleeping through the night. Familiarity and routine are big parts of creating a successful sleep habit, and changing the place where your child sleeps is a big disruption to everything that’s been built so far.

2. The crib is “hers”. Children this age are just starting to get into the “mine” phase, where they assert their independence by identifying their ownership of just about everything. Changing where your child sleeps can potentially incite this compulsion in a negative way. This is especially true if you wait until you have a second child before making the change.

3. The logistics of sleeping in a bed are different. A crib has walls that keep the child inside. Her only real options are to sleep or cry. A bed, on the other hand, opens up a world of possibility. It’s much easier to get out, so there’s a level of distraction that has to be overcome before your child learns that a bed is for sleeping.

How we made it happen

Before getting into it, I need to give 100% of the credit for this to my wife. She mapped this out from the beginning and I simply helped execute her plan.

Just to give a quick summary of our setup, our apartment has three bedrooms (that’s right, we’re renters). One is for my wife and I, one was made into a nursery and one was previously a guest room/storage closet. With a new baby on the way in December, our goal was to move our son from the nursery to the guest room well before then so that the two things were in no way related in our son’s mind. We also knew that because this was a big transition, we needed to help our son along by accomplishing things in small steps. Here’s how we did it:

Step 1: Clean out the guest room. Some stuff was thrown away. Some was donated. Some was simply moved to a different part of the apartment. But we needed to make this into our son’s room, so our stuff had to go.

Step 2: Move some of his toys into his new room. Before this, almost all of his toys had been in the nursery. We moved about half of them into his new room and spent about a week just getting him used to playing in there. The goal here was to help him feel like this new room was “his”.

Step 3: Move all of his toys out of the nursery. After that first week, we moved all of his toys out of the nursery. Most went into his new room. This gave him even more incentive to spend his time in there, and little incentive to spend time in the nursery beyond sleeping.

Step 4: Part of our overall strategy to get him ready for the baby is to have him help “take care of” his favorite stuffed animal (a stuffed tiger given to him by his grandparents, which we subsequently named Hobbes. It’s really fun to be a parent sometimes!) Part of this was having him put Hobbes down for “night-nights” in the new bed. This was to help him get used to the idea that the bed was for sleeping.

Step 5: Do naps in the new bed. We started with the shorter of his two sleeping periods, saving the big night-time sleep for last.

Step 6: All sleep happens in the bed. By the time all of the previous steps were complete, this one was met with pretty much no resistance.

The big lesson

A lot of us have big changes we want to make in our lives and there’s often the urge to try to make them happen all at once. I’ve certainly been guilty of that, and usually it’s resulted in failure. Our current situations have been formed through many experiences over a long period of time, and it’s just not realistic to expect to change them overnight. Real, lasting change only occurs over similarly extended periods of time and requires a similar amount of experience.

If you have some big change you want to make in your life, good for you! It’s an exciting opportunity. But recognize that change is a process, and that your best chance for success is to map out a plan where the big end change is accomplished through smaller changes along the way. Understand the very real obstacles in front of you and make a step-by-step plan that gets you to your end goal. Focus on truly accomplishing each individual step along the way before moving on to the next one, and before you know it you’ll be at the end. If you’ve done it well, it will barely feel like a change at all.

Photo courtesy of thomasrdotorg

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40 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer October 11, 2013

    Love the correlation here, Matt! You guys did it right with the plan too. Kids can be SO emotional, and they love their routine. I have to say with the realization of our debt problem in January, I’m often feeling like a kid who’s just been thrown from her crib to a bed. Serious tantrums could arise if I’d let them. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Haha, you guys are handling it like champs Laurie. These big changes aren’t always easy, and even the best of us struggle, but you’re demonstrating the power of perseverance. Soon enough it will feel more routine.

  • Holly Johnson October 11, 2013

    We already tried it once with my two-year-old. She was back in the crib the next night. Her sister was already in a regular bed at her age but it’s going to take her a while longer. She just cried and banged on her door all night =/

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Definitely important to remember that every kid is different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. You’ll figure it out with your daughter when you’re all ready.

  • Renee S October 11, 2013

    I love good parenting, haha and this sounds great! You really thought about it from your child’s perspective and didn’t rush the transition. Kudos 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Thanks a lot Renee! Thinking about things from our son’s perspective is something my wife is really good at. I just try to follow her lead.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules October 11, 2013

    Good correlation Matt! It really can be a challenge for the kids as you’re really rocking their world if you think about it. We’ve done it twice so far and will probably have to go through it again her with our youngest in a year or so. For our oldest (our daughter) she was an absolute mess. She’d get out of bed and sleep on the floor by her door some nights. It really took a lot of work with her to make it go smooth for her. Our next oldest did great and had little in terms of challenges. It just goes to show you how different each kid is.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      You’re spot on about each kid being different. We may have to take a totally different tact with our next son. I guess we were pretty lucky that we didn’t face much in the way of challenges. It sounds like you guys made the effort to really be there for your daughter during the struggles though, which is another huge part of anything like this.

  • Andrew October 11, 2013

    I love the correlation too! I know it’s bad but our problem right now is transitioning him out of our bed into the pack n play bassinet in our room. Co-sleeping was the only way he’d fall asleep and let us sleep. But we need to make the transition! He is quite stubborn.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Definitely don’t worry about that Andrew. We did the same thing, and most of the other parents we’ve talked to did too. We were in the same spot as you. There just wasn’t any other way to get him to sleep. I know they tell you not to do it, but at some point it’s just a matter of survival.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money October 11, 2013

    I will have to bookmark this for reference – no kids yet but I’m sure I will someday. My friends just went through this with their son and from what I know it went well. He likes his “big boy” bed, as well as showing guests that he has a big bed now!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      I’ve definitely heard of other people playing up the “big kid bed” angle and having that work well. I think my wife did some of that, but that wasn’t really our big tool. Definitely worth working into our next transition though.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup October 11, 2013

    Great article Matt. I am glad that I don’t have to do this yet, but this gives me some good insight of what to do and expect when we need to transition our son.

  • Done by Forty October 11, 2013

    I love the approach, though like you I’m guilty of making big changes quickly (and impulsively). The results usually match the amount of thought I put into the approach.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Yep, I know that game. Big thoughts and a couple of big actions followed by fizzle. My big successes have been much more gradual.

  • Cat Alford/ Budget Blonde October 11, 2013

    Love this post! These are exactly the types of lessons I need to mark down for the future bambinos!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Thanks a lot Cat. I can’t wait to hear all your lessons when the time comes. That will be fascinating.

      • Cat Alford/ Budget Blonde October 11, 2013

        Aw thanks Matt! Right now we just hope we can keep them alive haha.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

          You’ll be great! It probably won’t be till #3 or 4 that it starts getting really hard (haha, just messing with you!)

          • Cat Alford/ Budget Blonde October 11, 2013

            Bahahhaa again with the chatting with my mother in law 😉

  • Nick @ October 11, 2013

    We just decided to make the switch one day around my daughter’s 2nd birthday. The first night, she fell off of the new bed (maybe 2 feet) and started crying. We haven’t had any issues since then and it has been 3 months. Sometimes we find her sleeping on the floor in the morning though 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Sounds like you guys did it well! Our bed is actually pretty much just on the floor, so we haven’t had issues with him falling out. Did you guys do anything in particular to help with the switch or was it pretty spur of the moment?

      • Nick @ October 14, 2013

        We didn’t do anything special really. We just decided to try it one day and she did great with it. We lucked out. 🙂

  • krantcents October 11, 2013

    I always advocate small changes to make changes. Adjusting to change slowly makes the changes permanent.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Agreed. Much easier to get used to small changes and much more likely for them to feel natural.

  • Pretired Nick October 11, 2013

    We’re a long ways off from this, but I’m already dreading it. At least I think we’re a long ways off. He’s started climbing everything in sight so I’m thinking it may not be long before he jumps the fence.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      Haha, yeah you’re hand might be forced before you know it. That’s the thing with kids. They only can’t do something until the day they all of a sudden can. You’ve got to be a step ahead.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar October 11, 2013

    We didn’t really do baby steps but talked up the “big girl” bed for a while before we put it in there. She did really well for the most part. It is scary when they can actually get out of the bed and walk around, but you can’t keep them in the crib forever, as much as I would have liked to!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 11, 2013

      I like that approach. I think we’ll definitely incorporate that more into other transitions along the way. I was worried about him getting up and walking around too but as long as you have a child-proof room they can’t get into too much trouble. And like you say, you have to make the switch at some point.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More October 12, 2013

    I’m a couple years away from having kids, but this definitely shows I’ll have to change my mindset and get into a kid raising mode. It’ll be a shock to my system but I’m sure it’ll be a good thing once we get to that point in our lives.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 12, 2013

      Oh it’s definitely a shock to the system. The good news is you don’t have to learn it all at once though. The first few months are pretty much just survival and you go from there.

  • The College Investor October 12, 2013

    I can’t wait to be able to transition the little one to their own bed – my wife, on the other hand, currently has this dream of a family bed. Let’s just say that doesn’t sound fun.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 12, 2013

      Haha, we had our son in our bed for a little while. It was the only way to get him to sleep. But there are definitely benefits to getting them to sleep on their own. Especially if you plan on having more…

  • Suburban Finance October 12, 2013

    My neice’s transition was really easy, because she was so excited about being a “big girl”, but every kid is different – she’s also the eldest and wanted to be “bigger” than her baby brother, haha.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 12, 2013

      Yeah the “big kid” approach definitely seems to be a popular one. That’s an interesting point about it potentially working best for the older child. We’ll have to see if that holds true if we try it with the next one.

  • Tonya October 13, 2013

    Great analogy. I always tell people the same thing about trying to lose weight or get healthy. Too often people make these “big plans” that are too overwhelming and then they fail. I call it my 10% rule. Just add 10% more good habits and take away 10% of bad habits and the changes won’t be difficult. Yes the changes will come more slowly, but that’s how good habits stick over the long haul. And when it comes to budgeting/saving/spending, people cut almost too much out, depriving themselves and then they have a serious relapse and go crazy with spending again. Hope the little one enjoys his bed!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 14, 2013

      I like that 10% rule a lot. We’re often in far too much of a rush to make something happen immediately and as you say that more often than not leads to relapse. Lasting change is all about getting used to the small changes along the way.

  • Edward - Entry Level Dilemma October 13, 2013

    If my kids turn out anywhere near as clumsy as me, the scariest part will be the fact that there are no longer walls to keep them from falling out of bed. I’m 32 and I STILL roll out of bed in my sleep sometimes!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 14, 2013

      Haha. I had a friend in college who broke his tailbone falling out of bed because he was dreaming that he was being chased by zombies. Funny story, not a fun injury. Some of us just need stricter boundaries than others.

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