Transitioning from either the crib or co-sleeping (or a combination of these) to her own bed is a true milestone in your child's life. For that reason, it can be exciting and intimidating - for both of you.
It's more than just a physical (or location) change. Your child wants to grow up, yet she's pulled to remain your little girl...and you're having similar thoughts about her moving along from infancy to looking forward to elementary school. It doesn't have to be a painful or scary transition, but for some children, that first "my very own" bed is a real adjustment. Here's how to make the big move more pleasant for everyone.
One push parents need to move their children out of the crib is when the child begins to try to climb out. That can be VERY dangerous, even if you have a soft landing set up on the floor. She may get a leg stuck between the bars or hit her head on the way down.
If your little one is starting to attempt vertical jailbreaks and is tall enough to get a leg up, it may be time to move her out of the crib.
If you co-sleep (which can be a wonderful experience...we did it), the time will come when you feel ready for it to be just the two of you adults in the bed. As your child gets physically bigger and starts elbowing for room in the bed, there just may not be room for all of you anymore.
In this case, be aware that you're nurturing your child's sense of privacy, too. There are times to share, and then there are times to be alone and just daydream your way off to sleep. Giving your child his own bed is giving him his own space, and he'll feel more like he "owns" this small piece of his life and of his day (and night).
Children mature at different rates. A little one who has reached a certain age and height is not necessarily ready for the open space around a bed as compared to the bars of a crib, or to be without the presence of your body surrounding her.
How mature is your child? Does she go off by herself for short periods to play? Is she very explorative? Does she appear independent and seem to want to "grow up"?
If you feel your child may be ready for a big bed, test things first by casually bringing the subject up. Show your child pictures in a magazine, online or on TV of "cool" big boy/big girl beds. Don't say "Don't you want that?" just yet. Instead, simply point them out, then quickly go on to the next part of your day. If she's interested, you'll begin to pick up on that.
As your child begins to show interest in a "big bed," now's the time to ask, "What would you think of getting one of those cool beds for your very own?" See how he reacts. Be aware that he may be ready even if he shows slight hesitation. It's something new - that's a normal reaction. But if he shows an inordinate amount of fear, cries, or grabs you and holds you close, you may wish to wait another couple of months, then broach the subject again.
You've made the decision to try out a bed for your youngster. Let him have some control over the process, which will make him feel more comfortable. The easiest way to do this is to allow him to help you choose the bed itself (within safety parameters; your child's toddler bed should be of adequate size, close to the ground, and have safety rails) and the bedding.
Show him several pictures of bedding and beds you approve of and ask him which he'd like, and why. Then when the bed and bedding arrive, let him "help" (keeping safety in mind) to set everything up.
Take a picture on your phone and send to his friends, cousins, etc. to keep the excitement going.
Your child's enthusiasm may wane as the sun goes down and his first night away from the crib or your bed draws near. Fears will naturally sink in at this time.
DON'T force or push it. Sit with him in the bed and read. Then have a casual talk - not about the bed (unless he brings it up), but about his day, what he plans to do the next day and so on. This will make him more secure that life will continue to gone per the usual, even with the addition of the "big" bed.
He may cry and ask you not to leave. Give him a big kiss and let him know you will be back in 15 minutes. If you just say "later," he'll likely cry continuously until you return, but putting a time limit on things - even if he doesn't fully comprehend the length of "15 minutes" yet - makes him realize you WILL come back and that you won't forget. If he's overly concerned about this factor, cheerfully tell him you will set a timer.
He may cry at first until you return; if he is hysterical or overly upset, you may want to wait some time and then try again (see #7 below).
If not, wait the 15 minutes - even if he calls out - with the door open and a nearby light on, and then go in, just as you said you would. Give him a kiss, smile, and if he begs you not to go once again, tell him it will be 15 minutes, as you did before.
At first this may take many attempts and may take quite a few nights. But eventually he will calm down and go to sleep without tears or worry. You have shown him that you're still right there and that you will always come to his aid when he really needs you, and this will help boost his feelings of security about the new bed.
If your child truly seems unready for her new bed, put things off for a time; say, a month or so. Mark on her calendar "Big Bed Day" so there are no surprises.
In the meantime, invite her into her bedroom to play every once in a while, getting her used to the presence of the big bed there. Also read on her bed every night even if she will then be going back to her crib or into your bed. This will all help to make her feel more comfortable about the big bed and to realize it is a safe place to be.
Normally we do NOT recommend a lot of activity in the bedroom, which could make it more a place of excitement than sleep. But during this transition period only, these actions will help your child to feel more comfortable with her new bed and new situation. In time, she will be sleeping in her big girl bed like the big girl she really is.