From Crib to Bed — How to Transition Smoothly to a Toddler Bed

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  • January 07, 2014
crib to bed

crib to bedAt some point, every baby grows into a toddler, and eventually needs to make the transition from crib to bed. I generally recommend that parents wait until at least 3 years of age to transition their toddler from a crib into a ‘big kid’ bed, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that once the crib rail falls below a child’s chest (while standing in the crib), it’s time to transition. For most toddlers, this coincides with my recommendation, especially when the crib mattress is dropped to the lowest position available.

Why do I recommend waiting until your toddler is at least 3? For starters, there’s a maturity issue. Your child needs to truly understand and be able to follow the bedtime rules. In addition to maturity, safety is a huge factor. An 18 month old roaming your house at night is scary. Even if you are a baby-proofing expert, it’s not worth the potential risk of your baby finding a lamp, plug in, or pull chord. Add to this the potential for emotional meltdowns, tantrums, and sleep disruptions when a baby is moved too early, and it makes sense to wait a bit.

A note from The Sleep Lady: Transitioning to a bed rarely solves an already exisiting sleep problem.

If your toddler is ready to make the transition, there are a few things that you can to do help them through this change gently and with minimal resistance.

Have a Conversation

Talk to your toddler about the upcoming change. Explain why they will be getting a new bed, and when. Get excited! Be sure to mention a new bed often, so that your toddler has time to process the information. At 3, she may have a myriad of questions for you, so be prepared.

A note from the Sleep Lady: I would caution you against introducing a new bed at the same time as a new baby, as it can seem as though you are bringing in a ‘replacement’ baby. Try to either introduce the new bed a several months prior to the baby’s arrival, or a few months after so that the events are separate in your toddler’s mind.

Make It Special

This is a big deal, and a big transition for your toddler. Make it special by having him help you pick out new sheets, blankets, even the bed itself if you’d like. This may also be a good opportunity to redecorate his room if you’ve been thinking about it. Have your child as involved as possible, as it will help him take ownership of this new responsibility and ‘big kid’ status.

When choosing a bed, be sure to pay attention to the distance from the mattress to the floor, and consider purchasing a bed rail, or even a toddler bed to help with safety (especially if your child is petite).

Discuss the Rules, and Stick to Them

Now that your toddler is moving into a bed, a crib will no longer confine them. This is a big step, and many toddlers will test their boundaries (and your patience), until they’ve found the limits. Testing limits is completely normal, but when it involves bedtime, it can be both trying and exhausting. A few basic things to think about where rules are concerned:

1. Baby gates. You may want to consider placing gates to help restrict movement should your child wake up and decide to go exploring.

2. Bathroom trips. Decide if your potty trained toddler needs to ask for help, or if they can visit the bathroom alone. You may want to consider placing a potty chair in their room if you are sure they will not spill it.

3. The boomerang effect. What happens when they get up? Talk about how bedtime is time for sleep, not playtime. If your child gets out of bed, you may want to revisit The Shuffle to help encourage them to sleep.

4. Early Rising. If your child is prone to early rising (and you haven’t already), consider purchasing a sleep clock that will tell her when it’s okay to awaken, and make it part of their room makeover. And don’t forget to continue with dramatic wake up!

The Crib

You may want to consider leaving the crib in your toddler’s room, at least for a short period of time. Some children like to have a choice, and being able to choose a big kid bed is empowering. On the other hand, some children will merely be distracted by having their crib in the room (and may even try to climb back in, which is usually an indicator that they aren’t ready to make the switch). As a parent, it’s up to you whether you remove the crib immediately or after a few weeks.

Be Prepared

Moving from a crib into a big bed is exciting, but it’s also going to take time. Most children adjust to this change in a few weeks, but you should be prepared to deal with some challenges. Most children are going to test the boundaries to see how you react. Make sure that you stick to their bedtime routine, and return to The Shuffle if you need additional reinforcement.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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6 Comments

  • tracijoy0927 says:

    Thanks for this post! My 31 month old is very happy in her crib and has never tried to get out. I’ve been feeling pressure to move her, but now I know it’s fine to wait. Thanks!

  • tracijoy0927 says:

    Thanks for this post! My 31 month old is very happy in her crib and has never tried to get out. I’ve been feeling pressure to move her, but now I know it’s fine to wait. Thanks!

  • chichio says:

    I had a baby, I mean a toddler 18 months old, I still sleeping with him, I would like to put him on a bed or crib, what do you suggest……, because he is still waking up like 3 times to nurse, or if I leave the bed, if I;m not there he got up and walk in the hallway and go to the living room to find me….I allready gave away my crib,,..but I can buy another if is neccesary.,….and he is small for his age….

  • chichio says:

    I had a baby, I mean a toddler 18 months old, I still sleeping with him, I would like to put him on a bed or crib, what do you suggest……, because he is still waking up like 3 times to nurse, or if I leave the bed, if I;m not there he got up and walk in the hallway and go to the living room to find me….I allready gave away my crib,,..but I can buy another if is neccesary.,….and he is small for his age….

  • breefawn says:

    chichio I’m glad that you’re thinking ahead! This article about http://www.sleeplady.com/co-sleep/6-tips-to-help-your-co-sleeping-baby-transitioning-to-his-own-bed/ will help you to gently transition him from your bed into a crib. I recommend that children remain in a crib until age 3 at least for safety reasons (your child does not yet have the ability to understand “stay in bed”).

  • breefawn says:

    chichio I’m glad that you’re thinking ahead! This article about http://www.sleeplady.com/co-sleep/6-tips-to-help-your-co-sleeping-baby-transitioning-to-his-own-bed/ will help you to gently transition him from your bed into a crib. I recommend that children remain in a crib until age 3 at least for safety reasons (your child does not yet have the ability to understand “stay in bed”).