So Big!

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Your little one is showing you that he’s ready for some big-kid transitions. Here’s what to expect and how you can help him navigate the terrain smoothly.

Right before your very eyes, your little sweetie is suddenly not so little anymore. He wants to do more and more things on his own. He’s climbing out of his crib in the middle of the night and he throws a fit when he can’t find his pacifier.

This struggle for independence during the toddler years (1-and-a-half to 3) will eventually smooth out and deliver your youngster into childhood, but there are plenty of ways parents can help to ease the passage. From crib transitions to giving up a pacifier to staying dry though the night, your toddler needs you now!

Crib-to-BED

Your child is climbing out of his crib -– or the rail is at the middle of his chest when the mattress is at its lowest setting – now’s a good time to move him to a bed.

“Parents have no idea how common it is for pediatricians to see fractures in toddlers who have fallen out of their cribs by hoisting themselves over the rail,” says Paula Elbirt, M.D., a pediatrician and founder of the drpaula.com website.

But remember, there’s no rush. “For many children, their cribs are a huge source of emotional comfort,” says Elbirt. “Ideally, the child should be showing signs of independence in other areas like toilet training, dressing and feeding himself before switching to the bigger bed.”

What if you have concerns about your child getting up in the middle of the night?

“Parents should assess whether they feel comfortable leaving their child alone in a room,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a psychology professor and author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Collins; $14.95). “Toddlers can potentially get into serious trouble if they become prone to night wandering.”

Whether you switch to a toddler bed – which uses the crib mattress – or a twin is purely a matter of personal preference. A toddler bed is an extra expense, unless your crib is of the type where one side comes off. “You won’t have to make two switches if you go directly to a twin,” says Elbirt. “And twin beds can be made to feel cozy by putting them in a corner and using a side rail.”

Let your child bring favorite blankets and stuffed animals into the new bed and keep the bedtime routine the same as it’s always been.

If he’s reluctant to commit to the new bed, keep the crib in the room once the new bed has been set up (if possible) and make the switch gradually, with only naps being taken in the big bed initially. Above all, maintain a cheerful attitude. “The more positive you are about the new bed, and the more involved your child is in choosing a frame or the bedding, the easier it will go,” says Mindell.

Ready to Potty TRAIN

Are diaper-free days just around the corner? Most tots show an interest in the potty sometime between the ages of 2 and 3. It’s time to give toilet training a try if your child displays two or more of the following signs, says Diane Stafford, coauthor of Potty Training for Dummies (For Dummies Press; $14.99):

  • He’s interested in watching you use the toilet and helping you flush.
  • He’s uncomfortable in dirty diapers and wants them changed.
  • He regularly has dry diapers in the morning or stays dry during naps.
  • He lets you know when he needs to use the potty.
  • He begins to develop a predictable peeing and pooping schedule.

Most kids don’t stay dry through the night until around six months after they’ve mastered daytime potty use, says Jan Faull, author of Mommy I Have to Go Potty!: A Parent’s Guide to Toilet Training (Parenting Press; $14.95). These tips will help your tot get there:

1. Limit liquids after 6 p.m., but don’t feel you have to ban them altogether, says Faull. “If your child is thirsty, definitely go ahead and give her a small drink,” she advises.

2. Put your child in disposable underpants at night, and encourage her to pee right before bedtime. Make a deal: If she’s dry for five nights, she’ll get a treat (a sticker or toy). “But never take rewards away after an accident,” warns Faull. After five dry nights in a row, try cotton undies.

3. When he switches to “big-kid’ underpants, be prepared for accidents. Buy extra waterproof mattress pads for quick cleanups. “Make it easy on yourself,” says Faull. “If you’re doing laundry at 3 a.m., you’ll get frustrated” – and that’s counterproductive.

Bye, Bye PASSY

Most children voluntarily drop the pacifier habit well before the age of 5. By this time, they have developed other sources of pleasure and security. Peer pressure and fear of appearing “babyish” also encourage children to discard the habit as they enter the preschool years. While you shouldn’t insist on your child breaking his sucking habit entirely, you can weaken his pacifier dependency.

If he’s developed an attachment, you needn’t try to force him, but there are things you can do:

1. Limit boredom. Many toddlers want their pacifiers when they’re bored. Keep the pacifier out of sight and keep your child active in play or games.

2. Keep his mouth busy. When he reaches for the pacifier, ask him a question, encourage him to sing a song, request a kiss.

3. Deal with his other needs. Don’t use the pacifier as a baby-sitter to keep your child quiet and calm. If he’s whining or demanding, deal with the situation that’s upsetting him without reaching for the pacifier.

4. Don’t translate communication garbled by the pacifier. Explain that he’ll have to remove the pacifier if he wants you to understand him. Less frequent use of the pacifier will encourage greater language development.

5. Limit sleep-time use. If he’s already in the sleep-time pacifier habit, however, he’s now old enough to find it again on his own and may be able to soothe himself back to sleep with a minimum of interruption. If waking up to find his pacifier has become a problem, help wean him from this use of it. Be aware that there will be a few nights of difficulty. Give your child an extra dose of love and attention to ease the transition. You might also institute a special nighttime ritual to substitute for the pacifier.

These measures may reduce the need for the pacifier, but they probably won’t end it. If your child needs it for comfort, he will give it up when he learns other coping skills. In the meantime, check with your pediatrician to be sure you’re using a pacifier that won’t cause damage to the mouth or teeth, keep it clean, and replace it when it gets worn.

Christina Frank is a freelance writer. Susan Brooke Day is the editor of this publication and the mom of a 2-and-a-half-year-old-on-the-brink toddler.

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