How and When to Transition From a Crib to a Toddler Bed
Feb 26, 2023
Transitioning from a crib to a big kid bed is one of those events in childhood and parenthood that is just so exciting! Although many parents are really excited to transition their little one to a big bed, for many it ends up becoming a disaster. Here's how to avoid sleep issues from cropping up and successfully transfer your child to a toddler bed.
My first tip is don't start this transition unless your child is 3 years or older. Before this point, their brains are just not capable of understanding the responsibility of this new found independence. Not only can moving your child too early lead to them leaving their bed and their room often, frustrations, and lack of sleep, but it can more importantly be a safety issue if they get into things within the home or even leave the home at night [these are things that have actually happened to people!!]. This is why I'm team leave-them-in-their-crib for as long as possible! My daughter is currently almost 4 years old and still loves her crib, she doesn't know any different!
56 percent of parents believe children have the impulse control to resist the desire to do something forbidden before age 3…However, brain research shows that these skills start developing between 3.5 and 4 years, and take many more years to be used consistently.
-Zero to Three National Parent Survey, 2018
If staying in the crib is a safety issue for your child who is younger than 3 years old, there's a few things that you can try first before moving them to an open bed:
- Figure out why they're suddenly trying to jump out of the crib. Do their awake windows need adjusting? Is there another sleep issue that you need to deal with? Download my free Month-to-Month Sleep Guide to see wake windows for up to 2.5 years here.
- Lower the mattress on your child’s crib or drop it all the way to the ground. Ensure that there is no gap between the mattress and the crib.
- Try putting your child in a sleep sack even if they weren't previously using one. Check out my reel here with tips on how to keep your toddler or child in their sleep sack if they try to get out of it.
- Move any furniture that's near the crib, and big stuffies, pillows, thick blankets or crib bumpers that are inside the crib that they could use as leverage to climb out.
When it is time to transition to the crib, there are a few things that you can do that help make the transition easier and prevent sleep issues from cropping up.
- Don’t make the transition to the big bed around the same time other big transitions are happening for your child. This includes things like weaning, potty training, starting a new school or daycare, moving and even introducing a new sibling to the mix (seriously, just buy another crib, you don't want a toddler with new independence and sleep issues when you have a fresh newborn, trust me!) You want to leave at least a 2 to 3-month buffer between big transitions.
- Ensure that you have a solid bedtime routine, and if you don't, establish one first before you make the transition. Having a visual reminder of what your bedtime routine is can really help toddlers and children during periods of transition, such as bedtime. A bedtime routine chart like the one included in The Bedtime Made Easy Printable Bundle can help make the transition smoother.
- Start using a toddler clock a few weeks before you transition your child to the new bed. This can help them get used to how it works and the meanings behind the colors before so they're ready to go when they actually have the independence. My favorite is the Little Hippo Mella, use code SLEEPYBUNNY10 to save 10% on it here.
- If your child is still napping, make sure you start in the new bed at bedtime and continue on for every sleep thereafter. This is because there's more sleep pressure at bedtime so it's more likely that you'll have success at night rather than implementing something new during the daytime!
- Decide if you're going to take steps to keep your child in their room or safeguard the whole house. If you keep them in their room, treat it as if it's the crib, ensure that everything is childproofed; anchoring down furniture, covering electrical outlets, being mindful of electrical cords, removing any choking or strangulation hazards are all things that you need to think of. If you make the whole house available to them, ensure that medicine cabinets and cleaning products are locked away as well as any stairs, doors leading outside and stoves or other appliances and hazards are inaccessible.
- Prepare your child, but don't overdo it. You don't need to tell your child about this transition way in advance, 1 to 3 days before is sufficient. Ensure that you are going over with them what the changes are going to be and what the expectations are of them to help them prepare. You can even watch videos or read books about the transition to a big kid bed too!
- Help create a sense of excitement and ownership. Allow them to help take down the crib and set up the new bed and let them pick their new bedding, a pillow or a new stuffy! Remember to only offer them choices that you're okay with!
- When you're choosing which type of bed to switch them to, I really recommend just going straight from a crib to a big bed (a single, twin, double or even queen!) rather than simply taking off the side of their crib or getting them a different toddler bed. This way there's enough of a difference for them to realize the newness of the bed and for them to respect the fact that there are different expectations. They don't just see it as their old bed without a side, which can be inviting for them to start to leave their bed, it's a clear distinction between the size and often even height of the bed which can help prevent issues.
- The most important tip of all! Are you listening?? Here it is, whatever you do… don't say this to them, "Okay, it's time for sleeping now, goodnight! Remember, don't get out of bed!". This makes it so hard for them not to get out of bed! It's now the last thing that they're thinking about before they're all alone with all of the time in the world to think about doing so. Plus, they might not have even had the idea to leave their bed in the first place and you just gave it to them! Instead, focus on what they can do, this would be a much better way of saying good night:
"Okay, time for sleeping now, I'm so excited for you to sleep in a big bed all night! I love you so much, and I will see you in the morning, sweet dreams!"
Often what happens is that things go great when children first move to a big bed but then after a few weeks or even months sometimes, that honeymoon period can end and then they start to come out of their bed and wander around the house. When this happens to you, gently and calmly, bring them back to their room and tell them that when they're back in their bed you'll come check on them. This can help prevent leaving their bed from becoming a habit at night time.
If you feel that you have moved your child too soon, there's nothing wrong with moving them back into a crib until they're more ready! If you need help preparing your child to move back into a crib, move into a toddler bed or resolve their sleep issues before making a transition, I am so happy to help you with that! Book a time here to chat with me about how I can help your child sleep so that your family can make more memories and have less meltdowns.
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