Cribs are a wonderful invention. They are a very convenient way to keep your child contained in his bed for as long as he's supposed to be there. As such, I recommend keeping kids in their cribs until at least age 3 (or even later if possible!).
People transfer their kids out of their cribs earlier than age 3 for all sorts of reasons. Today I'm going to address some of those reasons and offer alternative ideas to moving out of the crib too early.
1. Making Room for a New Baby
The impending arrival of a new baby is a very common reason to transfer a toddler to a "big kid bed." However, if Baby doesn't need the crib from day 1, there's no reason to boot the toddler from it just yet. Most parents choose to have Baby sleep in the same room with them for at least the first few months of his life. This is much more convenient for those frequent nightfeeds that are typical for an infant. Instead of using a crib, opt for something smaller like a bassinet or pack and play.
It can be a rough transition for a toddler to welcome a new sibling; there are a lot of changes all at once! But being forced out of his crib to make room for Baby does not have to be one of these changes. Rather than changing the sleeping situation prior to Baby's arrival, let your toddler meet and get used to Baby for a few months. Then, when you're ready to transfer Baby out of your room and into a crib, your toddler will have to deal with only one change.
Hopefully by this time, your toddler is closer to age 3. Every month that you can hold off the transfer will make the transfer go that much more smoothly.
2. Toddler Climbs Out of His Crib
Another reason toddlers are often transferred to beds too early is because they begin climbing out of their cribs. Parents worry about the safety of their child jumping/falling from the height of a crib, so they opt for a bed instead. The trouble with making the transfer for this reason is that your child will still get out of bed, only now it will be much easier! You'll find yourself with a whole new mess of problems. Transferring to a bed should be a reward for good sleep behavior, not a solution for bad sleep behavior -- I promise it won't solve the bad sleep behaviors!
My number one recommendation to keep your toddler from climbing out of his crib is to have him sleep in a sleep sack. This will encase his legs a bit so that he hopefully won't be able to climb out of his crib. If your child has already climbed out of his crib several times, instituting a sleep sack may not deter the behavior, but if your child is still young, I advise starting the sleep sack early so that your child never gets the chance to learn how to climb out.
Other things that can help discourage climbing are to lower the crib mattress to its lowest setting or even to the floor (still inside the crib), turn the crib around if one side of the crib is taller than the other, and/or use a crib tent. There is some debate about the safety of crib tents, so make sure to do your research before deciding to get one.
3. He Loves Sleeping in Mom and Dad's Bed
The last common reason for transferring a toddler to a bed is that he loves to sleep in Mom and Dad's bed, so parents think he'll do better in a big kid bed than a crib.
The reason your toddler loves to sleep in your bed isn't because it's a bed; it's because he's sleeping with you! He loves you, so why wouldn't he want to snuggle with you all night long?
If he fights his crib, he'll still fight a bed, so instead of changing his sleeping arrangements, work first to change behaviors. Modify your behavior so that he'll learn how to change his. This includes things like implementing a consistent bedtime routine and leaving him in his crib despite his complaints. Once he learns that his complaints won't get him into your bed, he'll give up and give in to sleep instead.
Transferring your toddler to a bed too early will likely create more problems than it will solve, so first work to establish great sleeping habits, and then make the transfer around 3 years old (or later!). Stay tuned for next week's post on how to successfully make the transfer!