This is part of a series that will discuss things you may want to consider as you prepare for the arrival of your second baby. Or third. Or fifth. While there are many things you may be focused on (like snagging your one remaining pacifier from the bottom of the fish tank) this post is going to focus on furniture, or more specifically, the crib decision.
Many parents get pregnant right around the time kiddo #1 turns 2. This is result of a magical convergence of having enough time pass so that you’ve forgotten how difficult newborns can be while enjoying the sparky fun of a cool little 2-year-old kid, leading to the conclusion, “We should totally make another one!”
As such they start looking at the crib, where their 2-year-old is happily sleeping, crafting clever strategies to gently wean their toddler into a big kid bed to free up the crib prior to the arrival of the new baby. Nobody wants their toddler to feel “pushed aside” when the new shiny baby arrives, so they wisely start plotting their big kid bed transition months before their due date.
But before we get too far down the path of shuffling your toddler into a big kid bed, let’s get in the Wayback Machine and check out the mischief some developmental psychologists got up to…
The Marshmallow Test
In the 1970’s some dastardly professors at Stanford University concocted an evil scheme to torture preschoolers, called “The Marshmallow Test.” They put 4-year-olds in a room with a lone marshmallow telling them, “If you don’t eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes you can have a second marshmallow. But if you eat it? No second marshmallow for you!” Then they laughed evilly while backing out of the room to go bully puppies.
Now most adults can’t wait a full 15 minutes, which is why we snarf cookie dough when there’s a batch baking in the oven. For 4-year-old kids 15 minutes is quite simply an eternity. Unsurprisingly, 2/3rds of the kids ate the marshmallow. Frankly I’m amazed they didn’t all eat the marshmallow.
This was a test of delayed gratification. Can you wait to get something you want? For most young children the answer is, “Not so much.” If 4-year-olds struggle to wait, how well do you think the average 2-year-old would do?
So back to the plan to move your toddler into a big kid bed, I’m hoping you’ll consider not doing this (yet anyway).
My Enormously Unpopular But Totally Correct Opinion on the Crib Decision
If your older child is under 3 years old, still sleeping happily in the crib, and the price of a new crib isn’t financially punishing for you, buy a second crib.
If “because I said so” isn’t a convincing argument for you, I’ll elaborate.
Why You Should Buy a Second Crib
There are a number of reasons why psychically containing your toddler when they sleep is beneficial.
2 year old’s have no self control
See: The Marshmallow Test. In this scenario you (or not sleeping, or both) are the marshmallow. Putting physical constraints on a toddler in the form of a lovely crib is far more reasonable then asking them to restrain themselves.
The crib is the most elegant form of containment
We’ve talked about the possibility of using the entire bedroom as a crib ; and certainly that’s a viable backup possibility to consider. But if your kiddo is already happily sleeping in a crib, that’s preferable to them sleeping on the floor next to a closed bedroom door.
2 year old’s go through some massive sleep regressions
Developmentally your 2-year-old is starting to find their own power and experiment with limits. Even without changes in beds, additions of new siblings, etc. most 2-year-olds will start playing around with delay tactics and calling for you at night. It’s all part of the process of childhood commonly known as, “What can I get away with?”
New Baby Bed Bounce
The New Baby Bed Bounce is common to older siblings of all ages. There is a delay of typically 3-6 months between the new baby’s arrival and the New Baby Bed Bounce, which is roughly the amount of time it takes your older sibling to figure out that the baby thing is not just a temporary disruption.The New Baby Bed Bounce typically includes: skipping naps, fighting bedtime, and demanding to come sleep with you at 2:00 AM. Why? Because these are all effective strategies to get Mom/Dad’s full and undivided attention. And because parents are often a bit frayed at this time, or fearful of “waking the baby”, they’re more likely to give in than set firm limits.
You’ll be in no position to fight toddler bedtime battles.
Most of the great proactive parenting things you’re doing today will dissipate like the fog in the sun when your new baby shows up. Don’t feel bad about this, it happens to all of us. Yes you can implement strategies to beg, bribe, or otherwise convince your toddler to stay in bed. But many parents of newborns struggle to find the emotional fortitude to do so.
Disclaimer: Use of a crib does not guarantee you an absence of any and all sleep struggles with your toddler. It does however provide a physical restraint for your limit-testing self-control-free toddler. Which vastly enhances your ability to enforce limits regardless of how deeply into the new baby fog you have fallen.
But…maybe you don’t believe any of these things will happen. Kids are like snowflakes (they’re all different) so maybe your little snowflake won’t fall prey to the New Baby Bed Bounce. Not all toddlers have problems with big kid beds right?
So I started pondering this and my dusty math neurons started firing. Which is how this happened.
Yes I used a decision tree, as people often do. The resulting calculation says that if there is a 3% or greater chance that your older sibling will have messier sleep issues in a big kid bed, you’re better off buying a new crib. And you can’t disagree with this, because math.
Look, between you and me, the world is filled with kids who have successfully transitioned into a big kid bed at an early age. Clearly it can and does happen! But as a general rule, waiting until after their 3rd birthday will help you avoid potential sleeplessness, and with a new baby en route, the last thing you need is less sleep. Three year olds have a much greater degree of self-control, are more verbal, and you’ll have a far wider range of effective parenting tools to use with a 3-year-old kid.
So if you ask me what my vote is in the decision (do I get a vote?), I’m going to go with “get a new crib” every time.
Does anybody else have any thoughts, horror stories, or successes they care to share?