You've gotta love how cribs keep babies penned in a safe area to sleep -- they're like jail cells but far more comfortable. Then one day, you hear a whump as your toddler pulls a ninja move and climbs out ... and this, mamas, is where the true test of your bedtime skills begins. Because once your toddler graduates to a bed, it's up to you and your wits to keep him there, and in those sleep-deprived 3 a.m. hours, parents often make a whole slew of mistakes that result in less shut-eye for all involved. Here are five errors to avoid, plus some smarter solutions to try instead. You're welcome.
Mistake #1. Switching to a bed too soon. "Parents often panic when they see that their child has climbed out of the crib and think that the only way to stop this is to move them to a bed," says Lori Strong, a certified child sleep consultant in Austin, Texas, and founder of StrongLittleSleepers.com. "What often happens is that the child has more freedom and continues to just come out of bed and their bedroom."
The fix: "I recommend that parents wait as long as possible before moving their child to a bed. The ideal age is when the child is over 3 years old," says Strong. To keep your toddler in his crib even if he's climbing out, use a sleep sack on your child (and put it on backwards so they can't take it off). This prevents your child from lifting their legs over the crib and voila -- captive again. "Also, you can catch your child in the act of trying to climb out," says Strong. "Use a firm 'no' each time to teach your child that they are not supposed to climb out. Do this consistently and they will often stop climbing."
Mistake #2. Not fully childproofing. "One common mistake I run into is parents forgetting to make the room and rest of the house safe," says Kerrin Edmonda, a pediatric sleep consultant at MeetYouinDreamland.com. "Now your child has access to their room and perhaps the whole house at night without your supervision. So precautions need to be in place."
The fix: Make sure all electrical outlets are covered and furniture is fastened to the wall in their room in case they decide to climb. "I always recommend a gate to keep him in the room as well," says Edmonda. "Nothing is scarier than having a toddler wander the house alone at night. And a gate doesn't have to be negative. You can make it the 'princess gate' and decorate it with ribbons and stickers." Another safety measure is a safety rail on the bed. "Toddler beds often have very short rails, or none at all," says Mark Loewen, LPC, a child therapist in Richmond, Virginia. "Adding an extra safety rail will keep the child from falling out of their bed, and also reinforce the idea of staying in it."
More from The Stir: Childproofing Your Nursery: Everything You Need to Know
Mistake #3. Not explaining the "new bed" to your toddler. "Especially when the child is younger, parents transition their child to a toddler bed without properly explaining it to the child," says Loewen. "Parents underestimate their child's ability to understand them." The result? Your toddler may not even be aware that the bed is where she needs to stay. She pops out accordingly and then is confused when you get miffed.
The fix: Bring the child to her room, show her the bed, and say, "This is where you sleep now. At night, you have to stay in bed. Don't wander around your room or house." "You need to talk about what happens after your bedtime routine, how they need to stay in bed, when they will be allowed to get out of bed, and when it's time to wake up in the morning," says Strong. Having a "toddler clock" can really help, since it rings or lights up when a child is allowed out of bed.
Mistake #4. Keeping the same bed time. "At least in the beginning, it is going to take more time to get your toddler to sleep," says Whitney Roban, PhD, a pediatric sleep consultant at SleepEezKidz.com. The result? Their usual bedtime at 8 morphs into 9. Next-day crankiness ensues.
The fix: Move bedtime earlier so that when your toddler finally does fall asleep, it is still at an appropriate time, advises Roban.
More from The Stir: These Baby Sleep Mistakes Could Be Deadly
Mistake #5. Being inconsistent. Pretty much all kids will test their limits at first and sneak out of bed and into your own. "Tired parents often give up and let them stay, but that's a mistake," says Loewen. Another doozie: Now that there's room in your toddler's bed for you, you lie there with him until he falls asleep. We know it's tempting, but unless you want your kid clamoring for you to stay every night, don't get in this groove.
The fix: Prepare to lose some shut-eye as you lay down the law. "Parents need to decide how they are going to respond and stick to it," says Strong. "If you tell your child you are only going to come back in once, only come back in once. If they come out, calmly walk them back to their room. Some children may come out multiple times at night, and it's important to respond the same way every time so that they get the message that they need to stay in bed."
How did you successfully move your toddler from a crib to a bed?
Image © Oleksiy Maksymenko/All Canada Photos/Corbis