Establishing and Keeping Baby's Sleep Routine

Switching from Crib to Bed

Two months after his third birthday, Cormac Duffy, of Portland, Oregon, asked his parents if he could start sleeping in the twin bed in his room instead of his crib; they had been waiting until he was at least 3, so this meshed with their plans. A previous "horrible sleeper," Cormac had become a "terrific sleeper" according to his parents, so they immediately put away the crib and moved Cormac -- and that's when things got bad again. "Once in his big-boy bed, it was easier for us to lie down with him to read books. He soon got used to this and wanted us to sleep with him 'for just five minutes,' but that really meant all night long," says Erin Duffy, Cormac's mom. "We went from putting Cormac down and having him fall asleep quickly to having bedtime be an hourlong process, at least."

One mistake the Duffys made was hurriedly putting away Cormac's crib: Even though he'd asked for the switch, he was not ready for it. "The transition to a bed is not all-or-nothing. Try it for a few days or weeks. If it isn't going well, there's really no problem in going back to the way things were," says Mindell. If you're considering the move to a bed because your little monkey is climbing out of the crib, she suggests a crib tent.

No Rush!

If your child is staying in her crib and seems happy there, don't rush to move her until between her third and fourth birthday -- otherwise you risk having a nighttime wanderer loose in your house. Think of it from your preschooler's perspective: The bars of the crib represent, in a way, her parents' authority. ("I can't get out of here; Mom and Dad put me in here.") It's only natural, then, that removing those bars creates a tremendous temptation to get up and explore. ("Freedom -- at long last!")

If your child has trouble staying in bed, Dr. Ferber offers a somewhat radical suggestion: Install a gate in the doorway of your child's bedroom to retain the "control" of the crib bars. "Nobody is locked out of the room, and the child can see out of the room. But the child is still confined to the room," he explains. Once you can get beyond the prison analogy, remind yourself that the worst thing that'll happen is your former midnight rambler will fall asleep on the floor -- in which case you can move her into her bed once she's sound asleep. Just remember to shut the gate on your way back to your own bed!

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