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How I Used Books to Get My Preschooler to Transition to a Big Kid Bed

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A.J. O'Connell

Staff Writer

A.J. O’Connell is the author of two published novellas: Beware the Hawk and The Eagle & The Arrow. All she’s ever wanted to do in life is read and write books, and so, is constantly writing at least one novel. She holds an MFA in creative fiction, but despite the best efforts of her teachers at Fairfield University's low-residency program, remains a huge dork for sci-fi, fantasy and comic books. She is a journalist and has taught journalism to college students. She blogs about feminism, the writing life, and whatever else comes into her head at Blog: A.J. O'Connell Twitter: @ann_oconnell

Recently, my child transitioned from a toddler bed to a big bed, a process that turned out to be difficult.

My spouse and I sort of expected that this transition would be a little on the rough side. That little bed had been his crib before it was his bed. But it was time: he’s getting big, and he was starting to look like Alice in Wonderland after the “Eat Me” cake in his toddler bed.

So, after what I’d hoped had been adequate preparation (reader, it was not adequate), we transitioned him to an actual bed… and after the thrill of the new bed wore off, he started asking for his crib back. I mean, I get it. He and that crib had been together all his life. Of course he’d have some trouble letting it go. So, to help ease the transition, I turned to books.

None of these books are specifically about getting a big kid bed. That kind of  Very Special Episode book never seems to work for our family. Instead, I’ve turned to books we’ve been reading all his life, books that showed characters he knows, loves, and thinks of as contemporaries, in their own beds.

In these books, the bed (or anxiety about the bed) isn’t the point. The main character already has a bed and is comfortable in it, and my son can look at the pictures, realize that this character has had a big kid bed all along, and then he gets distracted by the story. As we get to the page where the bed is, I gently draw his attention to it. Sometimes this is overkill, because he notices by himself now.

These books calmed him down when he was upset about his crib, and they’ve eased him into an acceptance of his bed.

There are a lot of childhood books that feature beds, but we’ve found that a few classics have been really helpful for us:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

The gold standard of bedtime stories, and also the one we turn to when we’re having a rough night, this book shows a very little bunny in a very big bed. The bunny is not a great model of how to stay in the bed — he sits up and climbs all over during the course of the book — but by the end, the bunny is fast asleep. Because this is a very calming book, it was perfect for easing my son through the first few fraught nights in the big kid bed.

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama Red PajamaThis book is a bed classic. Llama Llama might be upset in this book, but not about his bed. He’s upset about going to bed. The bed is just a fact of his life, and it’s even a comfort to him — he pulls the covers up over his nose when he’s worried his mother isn’t coming upstairs. This book has been super helpful because it’s about bedtime anxiety, but not the sort of anxiety my kid is experiencing when I read it to him. He can look at the book see that Llama Llama doesn’t mind in the least that he’s in a big bed, while also seeing that he’s got it together in a way that Llama Llama does not.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

This book is barely even about bedtime, which is one of the things I love about it. Peter’s bed is just a place where he anticipates the next day. He’s not thinking about his bed or even about going to bed; he’s thinking about all the fun he had in the snow during the day. His worries are about the snow melting, and when he wakes up, he’s thinking about starting his day and doing something exciting. Peter is not all about his bed. He uses it to rest up for the things he does with his day. And that’s what a bed is for.

What are your favorite books for bedtime?