I was happy to leave my child in his crib until he left for college (I figured, it's hard to get a girl pregnant in high school if you have to sleep in the fetal position and your bed resembles a cage). However, my son had other plans. At 18 months, I found him straddling the crib rail - one arm and one leg reaching for the open space below. In attempt to avoid a toddler in a cast, I was forced to think of other options. If you also have an escapee, regardless of the age, read on. Otherwise, enjoy the crib and start convincing your children it's a totally legitimate piece of furniture for a tween ("Yes honey, I'll get you Hannah Montana sheets for your....crib.")
I always thought toddler beds were stupid. Why buy a tiny little bed when you can just put them in a normal bed? Well, as we all know, kids change your plans. Since a full size bed would have necessitated a move to another room, we decided to opt for a toddler bed. I considered buying a conversion kid for our crib, but those were more expensive than most toddler beds I saw online. Walmart.com has hundreds of toddler bed options in the $50-100 range; many cute Pottery Barn-esque styles. Buying the bed is easy - now how do you get them in it?
- Talk up the new bed. If you purchase it in store, let them tag along. However, if you're not ready to buy the Dora bed, keep it out of view. If you buy it online or cannot find a Dora Bed-free store, let them "help" you put their bed together. Remember, don't call it a "big kid" bed unless you know that something they're in to, some kids don't want to be "big" as that can be scary. Mention it's like mommy and daddy's bed or a friend's bed.
- Let them pick out some new fun sheets. Yes, I had visions of darling bedding. My son preferred the versions that basically look like Disney vomit. Let me tell you, it's easier to just let it go and sell your soul to Disney right away.*
- Put a gate at the door and turn their room into a "crib." Until they get use to their new found freedom (especially if they're younger, they won't really understand staying in their crib), move breakable, dangerous, and fun (e.g., toys) out of their room.
- Don't expect them to stay in their new bed right away, readjust your expectations and break out those old sleep training methods.
- Make sure they're really tired the first time you try the bed out. Whether it's a nap or bedtime, make sure they're super exhausted and can't fight you on the location. Or let them fall asleep someplace else and move them into their bed (unless they don't do well with mid-sleep moves); once they wake up a few times in the bed, they start to get use to it.
- Consider laying down next to them for a few nights. As mentioned above, you may have to break a few rules initially before you get back in the groove.
*Disclaimer: My son easily transitioned from his crib to his toddler bed. For three months he slept happily in his bed. Then after a few weeks of being on vacation and sleeping in random places, he refused to return to his toddler bed. He wanted to sleep on the floor. So for 4-6 months, he slept in a sleeping bag on a floor. I figured, he's sleeping, so what's the big deal? I randomly ended up buying some Toy Story sheets I saw at Target. He happily returned to his bed that night without any issues. Henceforth, the sheet and selling-out-to-Disney advice above!