sleep

Big kids’ beds

It seems to me that there are three big milestones in a toddler’s or preschooler’s life: dropping the day sleep; being toilet trained; and transitioning from a cot to a bed. Hattie and Joe are still enjoying a nap every day (and long may that continue!), and their interest in wearing knickers is patchy, to put it mildly, so today I’m writing about the shift to big kids’ beds (and I’m recycling some content that is due to be published in a future issue of our multiple birth club’s newsletter, so if you are a member of that fine organisation and later read these words elsewhere it won’t be because you’ve gone crazy).

I had been absolutely dreading this stage, having heard numerous stories of twins wreaking total havoc, rampaging through the house, destroying their bedrooms, and generally acting like every night was Mardi Gras as soon as they were released from the confines of their cots. I’d also resigned myself to the prospect of day naps ending once the kids were in beds, and given that they’re early risers who need their sleep, this was a terrible thing to contemplate.

We hadn’t been in any hurry at all to make the change, although it was very helpful that Hattie and Joe hadn’t attempted to climb out of their cots and could safely remain in them. We have always put them to bed in sleeping bags (albeit worn backwards in Joe’s case, to prevent him from breaking out of it), so that had probably hindered any real climbing attempts. However, I know that some kids successfully bust out of their cots with sleeping bags on – I think another saving grace for us was that our two have always been pretty happy in their cots, and have been good sleepers since we had some help from the Baby Sleep Consultant when they were nine months old, so they weren’t hugely motivated to escape.

My mother forced our hand by announcing that she’d replaced the cots at her house with two single beds, which meant that our Christmas visit would be Big Bed Time. I was still a bit reluctant, but she rightly pointed out that we couldn’t keep them in cots indefinitely.

We put them into their beds on the first night (still in their sleeping bags), arranged pool noodles under the edges of the fitted sheets to limit the risk of them toppling out, and shut their door, waiting for drama to unfold. And absolutely nothing happened. They went to sleep. The same thing happened the next night, and all of the other nights we spent at my parents’ house. We then went to a bach in Napier for six nights, and they slept well there as well. And they continued to have a nap every day, which was brilliant. Joe actually had better naps in his bed, which makes me think that he might have been waking up uncomfortable in the cot and not been able to get back to sleep easily.

So we got home to Auckland, put them back in their cots for a couple of nights while we organised beds (and they weren’t happy about being back in their baby cots), and then they were into their Big Kid beds at last. Here they were on their first night:

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The only behaviourial challenge we’ve had has been their new-found tendency to talk and talk (and talk…) when put to bed. This has meant that they’ve typically taken at least half an hour to fall asleep, and sometimes up to an hour, as they’re too busy shooting the breeze to settle down. Multiply that by two bedtimes each day, and you start seeing a bit of a sleep deficit. To address this we tend to play Good Cop, Bad Cop a bit, and also bargain with them, using whatever the preferred currency is this week. Initially I told them that, for every visit we paid them to ask them to stop talking and get to sleep, they’d lose the right to watch one of their favourite pre-recorded TV programmes the following day. This was reasonably successful initially, but it was crucial to understand their current televisual preferences and order the deletions for maximum effect: there’s no point going in there and threatening to delete Mike the Knight if Doozers is the big favourite at the moment.

We’ve also learned that favourite toys can serve as useful currency. Attempts to confiscate old favourites like Betty the bear and Larry the lion has been counter-productive, but kids are faddy, and they’ve usually got something new in bed with them: this week it’s the soft toys from Room on the Broom (which Pat, my mother-in-law, bought them for their birthday). Joe takes the witch to bed, and Hattie sleeps with the dragon, and both kids are well aware that we will remove these toys and also put away the cat, the dog, the bird, and the frog if we can’t get bedtime compliance.

Here’s what I think helped us with a smooth transition from cots to beds:

  1. Waiting until they were nearly three until we made the change. They’re now old enough to understand consequences, which I think would have been a struggle a year ago. This was great advice from the Baby Sleep Consultant, who suggested waiting to as close to three years old as possible.
  2. Keeping them in their sleeping bags for the transition. Putting on the sleeping bag has been a real sleep cue for both of them, and it’s provided continuity from sleeping in cots. It also prevented them from getting too cold in the night if they accidentally kicked off their covers. They’ve now been in beds for nearly two months, and we’ve only taken off their sleeping bags this week (and thankfully that hasn’t caused any drama at all – and they were very excited at this further evidence that they’re officially becoming Big Kids).
  3. Keeping their bedroom door shut. I know that most people leave their children’s bedroom doors open, but we’ve always kept theirs shut and had a monitor on, so they’re perfectly happy like that. Going to sleep with the door shut has probably limited the temptation to get out of bed and roam the house. I realise that this information isn’t much help if you’ve got a toddler and they already sleep with the door open, but if you’ve got a baby and they don’t yet care either way it might be something worth keeping in mind.
  4. Enforcing the idea that beds are ONLY for sleeping. We don’t let them play on the beds, and once they are in bed they understand that getting off will mean toy confiscations. So far, they haven’t forced our hand on this.
  5. Preparing for the worst: we used pool noodles under the fitted sheets on their bed initially, to provide some resistance if they were to accidentally roll too close to the edge, and we’ve arranged their beds so they’re parallel, enabling us to put a cot mattress on the floor between them in case of unplanned rapid nocturnal bed evacuations. I’ve found Hattie asleep on the cot mattress a couple of times, but I don’t think she’s fallen out of bed: I think she’s decided to get out and sleep there. Soon we’ll remove the mattress entirely, but it’s served a good purpose. We also let them have a quick jump on it before they get into bed, so they can get that out of their system and not jump on their actual beds.

So few things go smoothly with little kids that, when something is relatively easy, it feels very satisfying! After all, is there any sweeter sight for a parent than this?

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