It's apparently International Comment Leaving Week in the blogging world (OK, it was at the time I started this – by the time I get it posted, it'll probably be IComLeWe 2010), so it's a touch ironic that I'm not making the comment I was initally going to make on this topic because I've decided to make a post out of it instead. However, I really could do with getting a post up (I've resigned myself to not getting to do NaBloPoMo this year, but it would be truly sad not even to get one post up this month), and Annie happened to ask about something that's a topical issue in our house right now, so here we are.
- How do parents transition their kids from the confined space of a crib to a big kid bed?
- Is it a difficult transition?
- When and how does this happen?
Everyone tells people who parent to sleep
start out staying with their kids while they fall asleep that their
kids will never learn to go to sleep on their own. I won’t pretend that
it is easy. But to me, it seems like it would be easier to go from
being parented to sleep to not being parented to sleep
having a parent in the room to not having a parent in the room than it
would to go from being confined to sleep to not being confined to sleep.
I've already written about my experience with Jamie (near the end of a long post – keep skimming down and you'll find it); here's the story on Katie.
Some weeks back, Katie started swinging one leg up and over the side of the cot with the expression of one trying to figure something out. While she didn't get as far as making the small shift in her weight that would have brought her up and over the edge, we knew it could only be a matter of time; she was already fractionally older than Jamie was when he figured out how to climb out. In Jamie's case, however, we had had a spare bed ready and waiting for him to be moved into once the cot no longer fulfilled its function as a baby-confiner. I decided we'd probably better make similar arrangements for Katie, so that, when wooden bars no longer a cage made for her, we could put her straight into the big bed without further ado.
Like many parents before me, I decided the obvious solution was to get bunk beds and thus preserve our current amount of floor space. (Like many parents before me, I have now discovered just what a pain bunk beds are to change the sheets on, or when it comes to lifting a protesting and sleepy child out of the top bunk because he absolutely has to get ready for school. Oh, well. The kids love 'em, and it is nice to have the floor space.) As it happened, a local shop had some nice bunk beds on sale, so we went ahead and bought them and Barry spent a busy evening assembling them, to the enthralled fascination of both children. Jamie insisted on a full count of all the separate pieces that went into making them; Katie just bounced around squealing "Buh beh! Buh beh!" We got some bedding a week or so later, and there we were, all prepared for Katie's anticipated and possibly imminent Great Cot Breakout.
Having done that, we'd intended to leave it at that until Katie actually did learn how to climb out of the cot; when you have two energetic children with a tendency to egg each other on to greater and greater levels of over-excitedness, it's a major advantage to have them sleep in different rooms. Katie, however, was not having any of this plan; we had singularly failed to take into account the level of fascination that a bunk bed would hold to a toddler at the stage of wanting to do everything the big people around her were doing. (Her most common utterance these days is a shout of "Me me me me MEEEEEE!!" in response to anyone announcing their intention to do, well, anything.) When the bunk bed was first assembled she would run through and lie down on the bottom bunk while we put Jamie to bed in the top bunk, but at that stage she reluctantly accepted being taken back to our room to be put in her cot. However, once we got the bedding and Barry made the bed up, that was it. Her lullaby that night was punctuated by howls of "Buh beh! Buh beh!" as she struggled to get away from me.
So, the next night, we went ahead and put her in the bunk. I then did what I usually do on Friday evenings, which is to go and lie down for a bit in order to muster the energy for the evening chores after a long hard week, zonk out, and surface three hours later wondering how the holy hell it got so late, so my conscious awareness of the next bit is limited to a very foggy memory of Barry coming in to tell me that I might find a lot of toys on their bedroom floor the next morning. Apparently, it went something like this:
Jamie hurtled down the stairs and into the living room to squeal with the particular note of enthusiasm only reached by small children reporting on the misdeeds of their siblings "DAAAAAddy!!! KAAAtie's not in BED!!"
Barry herded him back upstairs to find toys strewn across the floor and Katie scrambling hastily back into the bottom bunk with a huge and innocent grin.
Barry settled both children down in their respective bunks again with instructions to stay there, and went back downstairs again.
Jamie hurtled down the stairs and into the living room to squeal… etc. Every few minutes.
(This, by the way, wasn't a totally unexpected outcome – the reason we
left the transfer to a Friday wasn't because we were particularly
trying to drag our feet about the matter, it was because we thought
that, if the kids did take ages to get to sleep, at least it wouldn't
be on a school night.)
After over an hour of this, Barry took Katie downstairs so that Jamie could fall asleep uninterrupted by a playing toddler. Once he'd done so, he took her back up so that she could fall asleep uninterrupted by a smug older brother. Since this actually seemed to work, on subsequent nights we've bypassed the first part and moved straight onto this method. After their night-time stories, I take Jamie to settle him to bed while Barry takes Katie downstairs, then I get some jobs done while Katie plays happily in the living room for a half-hour or so, check on Jamie to make sure he's sound asleep, and take Katie back up to settle her in the bottom bunk. Despite this being so absolutely contrary to the advice of almost every parenting book ever written on what a child's bedtime routine should be that I spent the first week expecting a posse of parenting experts to materialise in my living room and tell me off, this seems to work just fine; after her half-hour of playtime downstairs, Katie settles down perfectly happily when taken up to bed. So that's our current bedtime routine, and that's the story of how we transferred Katie.
When I first read Annie's question, I thought she was asking about how you got a child to accept being put to bed in a big bed instead of a cot, something which has been among the all-time easiest things I've ever had to do in parenting, both times around. As I read further down the comments on her post, I realised that her question had in fact been about how you got a child who was used to a cot to stay in a bed, and, of course, my story is not exactly a sterling example of the ease of that particular endeavour. But the question was a bit more than that, when taken in context; she was talking about parents who feel that they need a cot because their child would escape if left unattended in a bed (either the parents' bed or a separate child bed). So I guess the question was: what happens to change a baby who won't stay in a bed without bars to a child who will?
Well, partly the fact that my children both woke up a lot more during the evening as infants than they do now; neither of them went into a bed until well settled into a pattern of falling asleep and staying asleep when put to bed for the evening. But, also, I'm just not as worried about the thought of a two-year-old getting out of bed as I would be with a baby or even a younger toddler. Partly, that's due to their level of physical capability – I'm more confident that an older toddler can climb down off the bed without falling. And that we can safely put a pile of pillows next to the bed to cushion their fall if they roll off the bed in their sleep. If I tried that with a baby, I'd worry constantly about the possibility of him smothering if he rolled into the pillows. Partly, it's their mental capacity. While 'common sense' and 'two-year-olds' are not words I ever expected to be using in a sentence that didn't also contain the phrase 'utter lack of', I do think it's fair to say that a two-year-old does have more common sense than a one-year-old when it comes to staying safe for brief periods of being left awake, unconfined, and unattended. They just don't put things in their mouths as often. And one final minor but not insignificant detail is that I'm happy putting a child in the two-ish age range to sleep in a separate room whereas I wouldn't want to do that with a one-year-old or a baby, and I do prefer the thought that, if either of my children wakes up up and starts roaming around getting into things before I can get him/her, at least it's going to be their things they get into and not mine.