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Making the Transition to a "Big Kid Bed"

We’ve had a LOT of transitions at our house lately. The end of summer brings plenty of transitions for every family, and ours is no different. Since I work in a school, this year it means sending our son back to my husband’s mom’s daily, with quite a change in schedule, discipline, and routine. This summer we’ve also been doing our best with potty-training. I’d say he’s at about an 80% “nailed it!” stage, so I’m hoping he doesn’t regress. Throw in our consistent, time-consuming house hunting and, OH YEAH, being about 7 months pregnant with our second child, and it’s no wonder our poor son is a little out of sorts. He’s actually handling the big things incredibly well right now, considering, but we’re expecting some emotions to run high after our baby arrives.

One area that we’ve been SUPER lucky has been with his “big boy bed” transition. He turned three this summer, so we knew it was only a matter of time before we should make the switch. Since he had never given any indication of wanting to “escape” his little cell, we put it off and put it off. Well, when we finally started planning furniture placement and organizing for our quasi-nursery recently, we knew we’d need to switch out his crib, finally. We were lucky enough to receive a hand-me-down toddler bed from a friend. It was in great shape, but had lots of scrapes and carvings from the previous owner, so I felt no guilt in painting the thing a perfect gray neutral. Hadley helped pick out the color and, after sanding, priming, and several coats of paint, it was ready. And so was he!
I had read tons of great information about how to make the transition smooth for everyone. However, much of it was heavy on role play and deep in lengthy conversation. Our highly active little guy does best with brief descriptions and an opportunity to ask plenty of questions, so I took this route (which may not work for everyone, but it worked great for us):

1. Give a brief explanation of what the new bed means in their terms.

I tried to make the new bed as fun and positive as possible. We used the “big boy” and “special” terminology because, well, he doesn’t hear it enough (as much as we may try). At the same time, I mentioned just one “rule”: that he couldn’t get out of bed unless there was an adult with him. If he needs something, he has to call for us first. With a stairway right outside his door, we’re using a gate, but this rule was downright necessary.

2. Ask their feelings about it all.

A new bed often accompanies lots of other life transitions for a little one (much as in our situation). We’re sure to ask Hadley his feelings pretty often. Sometimes he can totally care less; other times he can tell us about any nervousness he may have. In this case, we helped him find the words: it’s new and exciting, but different and a little weird. Talk it out! It genuinely helps to let them know that their feelings are normal and give simple strategies for dealing with them.

3. Celebrate successes; rinse and repeat for the road bumps.

Okay, this is one I need to follow with potty-training better! But, when they show that they’ve listened and have transitioned to actually sleeping pretty successfully, praise the heck out of them. If you have an adorable little voice wake you up at your bedside, just quietly walk them back, lay them back down, and calmly remind them to stay put. It may take time, but they’ll get it. Hadley’s actually been far easier to get into bed and in for a nap; he’s so excited to use the new bed. Getting him to sleep is just as much of a challenge as it’s always been (hit or miss), but we haven’t had any issues with him getting out and wandering around. He knows he has to ask before getting up, anyway, and the first night he called me in with a worried voice - his stuffed animal was sitting there, on the floor, about 1 ½ feet away from his reach. “Yes!” I thought. “He understands.” The fact that we use a monitor with a sensor mat that goes under his mattress also gives us a huge peace of mind for the time being, as well. That’s not to say that this transition has been easy. There was quite a bit of melancholy on the parts of my husband and I over one of the bigger “he’s not little anymore” steps he’s reached. My emotions are pretty in-check lately, so I was generally able to acknowledge the sadness but focus mainly on working on the practical side of things - painting, disassembling the old crib - with a pretty good recognition that this is was a happy transition. The Dorky Daddy (aka my husband), however, has gotten pretty sad over the change. I can totally see why, but it’s really just one of the bigger, easy-to-spot examples of how the little guy is growing into quite the big guy everyday. So, how have you guys dealt with the big bed change-up, whether it’s from co-sleeping or crib to bed? Do you have any tricks or tips to share that others may find useful? Or do you have different transitions going on in your household lately? We’d love to hear about them!
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