Transitioning your child from a crib to a bed is a really exciting transition, but it can also be nerve-wracking! We’ve done it twice now, and while it went smoothly both times and sleep is literally my job, I was still just as nervous! You just never know what will actually happen.
So in this blog, I’m going to walk you through my top tips for transitioning your toddler from a crib to a bed, including:
- The ideal age to make the crib-to-bed transition
- How to include your toddler as you prepare to transition them to a bed
- What not to say that first night in their big kid bed
- How to help your toddler through the crib-to-bed transition while also having consistent boundaries
- The importance of a toddler clock
And so much more!
Wait Until Your Child is Three Years Old
My top tip is to try to wait until your child is as close to three years old as possible!
Even for the most verbal two-year-olds, the newfound freedoms that come with a big kid bed are hard to understand, and we need to make sure our kids fully grasp the expectations that come with this new territory. Not to mention their ever-developing impulse control!
I’ve had many families come to me because their child was a great sleeper until transitioning out of the crib and it all went downhill from there, and it’s often because the transition happened too soon. Their child isn’t quite ready for that level of responsibility yet! (And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve definitely encouraged some parents to put their child back in the crib when we worked together!).
Can you wait longer than three?
Absolutely!! Our girls were both 3.5 when we transitioned them, and to be honest, they would have happily stayed in their cribs even longer. But both times friends were giving away their extra bed for free, so we jumped on the opportunity!
Another “milestone” I suggest waiting on before transitioning to a big bed is dropping the final nap. Naps can be a tricky part of the sleep puzzle as is, and I’ve heard of many families who have transitioned their toddler to a bed while they were still napping every day, but the transition made that nap become a huge challenge, or sometimes just not happen anymore.
And we all know that sleep begets sleep, so missing a much-needed afternoon nap every day will certainly impact nighttime sleep.
How to Handle the Crib Climbers
Now safety is absolutely a huge priority here, so if you’re reading this and you’re nervous about your toddler climbing out of the crib, or they’ve already tried to, first, read this post with some tips to keep them from climbing out.
If you’ve tried all the tricks and they just keep climbing, I totally get it. You do have to transition them to a bed, and sometimes that happens before the age of three. And if that’s the case, it could certainly be a challenge, but it’s necessary.
My top tip for you would be to treat your child’s bedroom as their crib. So make sure all of the furniture is anchored, there are no toys in the room for them to play with, and there’s nothing dangerous you wouldn’t want them getting into. And if they can open the door, I even suggest using a door knob cover or a baby gate so they can’t leave the room. We certainly don’t want a toddler able to roam the house in the middle of the night!
That way, if they get out of their bed, they are totally safe. And if they happen to fall asleep somewhere on the floor, or on their bean bag, they’re totally safe! They will eventually realize their bed is just the better place to sleep.
What if you’re having another baby?
Another reason many families consider transitioning their toddlers from a crib to a bed before the age of three is because they are pregnant with another baby and want the crib available for their next baby.
While we certainly want the crib to be ready for the new baby eventually, that baby can absolutely wait! They can sleep in a bassinet for the first several weeks of their life, and from there (or even from the start) they can sleep in a pack ‘n play for quite some time.
All three of my girls actually slept in a pack ‘n play for at least the first year of their life, and my oldest actually slept in a pack ‘n play until she was 2.5, simply because that’s all we had space for. So no rush on getting big brother or sister out of that crib!
Include Your Toddler While You Plan the Crib-to-Bed Transition
This is a very exciting transition, and it’s a big deal for both you and your toddler! So let them in on what’s happening and when, and involve them as much as possible!
Talk about how they’re going to start sleeping in a big bed in X number of days and stick to that plan. You could even do a paper chain countdown!
Then invite them to take part in the switch. Maybe they hand you tools as you take the crib apart, or help you “build” the new bed. Consider letting them pick out their new sheets, or decide between two colors for their bedspread.
We want your child to be excited and feel like they have some say in this new change happening!
So once it’s time to transition, just do it! Don’t give them the option of their crib or their new bed, simply remove the crib and make this new big kid bed their now bed.
Don’t Say, “Don’t Get Out of Bed”
I know that your biggest fear when making this transition is that your toddler is going to get out of bed. I HEAR YOU! It’s a very real possibility. However, you are very likely thinking about this way more than they are.
If you normally lay your child in their crib, kiss them goodnight, and walk away, DO THE SAME THING when they’re in their bed! They will very likely do the same thing, as well, and go to sleep.
As you’re preparing for the crib-to-bed transition, and as you’re tucking them in on the first night in their big kid bed, do not say, “Now remember sweetie, don’t get out of bed!” Because you’ve now just planted the idea in their little heads that getting out of bed is a possibility, and it’s now much more likely that they will try to get out of bed.
Simply kiss them goodnight with an, “I can’t wait to see you in the morning!”
Grace + Boundaries + Consistency
Now it’d be awesome if you made this transition and your toddler never got out of bed, and that is totally possible. AND it’s still possible that they take advantage of this newfound freedom and try to get out of bed. That’s okay, and it doesn’t have to last forever!
So first, GRACE. If your toddler gets out of bed, stay calm and walk them right back to bed. Remind them that it’s bedtime, it’s time to lay down, you love them, and you’ll see them in the morning.
Next, BOUNDARIES! You are walking them back to tuck them in bed again and say goodnight. You are not going to read one more bedtime story or get one more drink of water, and you’re not going to sit in there for 20 minutes as they fall asleep. We don’t want them learning that if they get out of bed they get a nice little “reward” for doing so (i.e. more books), as this will incentivize them to keep getting out!
And, of course, CONSISTENCY. You will do this each time they get out of bed, whether it’s bedtime or in the middle of the night, and this will happen whether it’s mom or dad. Again, we don’t want them learning any little ways around the “system.”
Now if it’s been about two weeks since you transitioned your toddler from the crib to a bed and they are still struggling getting out of bed most night, it’s time to get creative and put more systems into place to help them learn these new expectations. Make sure you snag my bedtime routine chart and boundary cards to help you set up some “bedtime rules” and stick with them!
p.s. I also want you to know that some kids seem to have a “honeymoon” phase when they first transition from the crib to a bed, so if your little one does really well at first and stays in bed all night, but then starts struggling after a few days or weeks, that’s totally normal!
Use a Toddler Clock
If you’re not already using a toddler clock (my favorite is the Hatch Rest!), it’s definitely time now! We want it to be very clear to your toddler when it’s nighttime and when it’s morning time. So if they wake up in the middle of the night, or stir at 5 am and think it’s morning time, we want them to quickly realize it’s still nighttime and they should be sleeping!
A toddler clock is the perfect way to take the pressure off mom and dad from constantly having to say, “It’s still nighttime.” Instead, your child can learn to take that responsibility upon themselves, check to see what color their light is, and if it’s not yet green, for example, they know it’s still sleep time.
p.s. If your toddler is still in a crib but you’re reading this to prepare for the crib-to-bed transition, start implementing a toddler clock now!
Final Tips and Thoughts for the Crib-to-Bed Transition
Go right for the twin or full-sized bed rather than a “toddler bed.”
It’s totally fine if you take one side of your child’s crib and turn it into a toddler bed. However, if it’s a possibility, I always prefer going right for a normal bed!
One, you’ll have to get your child a bigger bed down the road anyway, so why not now? More importantly, the toddler bed looks a whole lot like the crib, and if your child has been a crib climber, this will be all the more inviting (and easy!) to jump right out of.
Use some type of bed railings.
If there’s any way to avoid your toddler from falling out of their new big bed in the middle of the night, we certainly want to do so! You can use something like these bed railings on either side of the bed. Or you can use something like this “bumper”, or even something so simple as a pool noodle if you’re not concerned about your toddler moving around too much.
Read the bedtime books in your child’s bed.
Rather than reading your child’s bedtime books in some sort of rocking chair or bean bag, move your reading time to the child’s bed! Then when it’s time for lights out, your child is already comfortably in bed and there’s one less transition to remind them that getting out of bed is an option.
I know the transition from crib to bed is overwhelming, so hopefully you’ve walked away from this blog post feeling more confident to go about it! You CAN get through this transition and still have a solid sleeper.
As with anything when it comes to toddlers and older children, consistency is key! It’s important to set boundaries and remain consistent with them so your child knows exactly what to expect at bedtime and throughout the night.
If you’re overwhelmed by all things sleep and are looking for more information about your toddler or older child’s sleep, so you can feel confident navigating any changes or bumps in the road that may come up as they get older, check out Big Kid Sleep from A to Z – a sleep foundations guide all about toddlers and older kids ages 18 months-5 years old.
Or if sleep is just so off track and you don’t know where to even begin, or you just want someone to guide you through this transition, that’s exactly what we’re here for! Learn more about how we support families of toddlers and older kids so everyone can get the sleep they need.