Take Another Little Piece of My Crib Now, Baby

Dear Mr. Dad: We just moved our two- and- a-half-year-old daughter from a crib to a bed. She seemed excited about her new “big girl” bed at the store, but now that it’s set up in her room, she refuses to sleep in it. What’s going on, and what can we do?

A: To a toddler, making the move from crib to bed is a big, big step. Try looking at it from her perspective: she’s spent her whole young life sleeping in that cozy little crib. She liked it and felt comfortable in it. And think of all the memories—learning to pull herself up, climbing out, surveying her realm from her elevated perch. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve replaced a beloved piece of history with that thing. No wonder she’s not happy. (Yes, she may have been thrilled at the store, but she was probably taken in by your excitement. Plus, things often sound a lot better than they actually turn out to be.)

Toddlers are creatures of habit, and they tend to resist making changes—especially big ones. You’d have similar problems if you decided to take away her favorite lovie. At this age, your child can’t do a lot of rationalizing, so instead of seeing the new bed as an exciting new development in her life, she’s mourning the loss of the old one.

Aside from the psychological issues, it’s possible that there are some practical reasons she’s refusing to sleep in her new bed. Could the mattress be too hard or too soft? Does it smell different than her crib mattress? Does it squeak too much (or not enough, if the old crib did)?

If the bed checks out okay, you may need to “train” your daughter to sleep there. Here are a few strategies that should ease the transition.

  • Make sure the old crib isn’t in her room, or anywhere else where she can see it. Keeping her little piece of paradise within view will make the transition all the more difficult.
  • Move all the stuffies, favorite blankets, mobiles, and whatever else she’s used to sleeping with from the crib to the bed. Those familiar sights, sounds, and smells will soothe her and make her realize that while the bed may be different, the rest of the world hasn’t changed all that much.
  • Decorate the wall around the bed with posters or stick-ons of Minnie, Daisy, Pooh, Dora, Nemo, Bob the Builder, or any other favorite characters.
  • Take your daughter to a store and let her choose two new toys or other comfort items to make the bed more welcoming. (Okay, this is a bribe. But it’s not a situation that’s likely to come up again anytime soon.)
  • Keep her old bedtime routines the same. Read her a story, sing a song, talk about your day, etc. This continuity will make the transition easier.

One thing I’d advise you not to do: If you’re expecting, don’t set up the old crib for the new baby just yet. Wait a few months until the soon-to-be big sister is well-settled and happy in her new bed before you turn the crib over to junior. And even then, make some changes: re-paint it, buy new sheets, crib bumpers, and mobiles. You don’t want your toddler to feel that you bounced her out of her crib just to make room for the new baby.

If you follow these steps, your daughter will soon be happily catching her ZZZZs in that big girl bed.