I admit that this topic was a bit scary to me. My daughter slept well in her crib and… I was scared of what would happen when we introduced her to a toddler bed… one in which she had free will to simply get out of any time she wanted!
Because of this fear I did lots of research and decided to write this article for others who need help going from a crib to a toddler bed. It’s going to be a long one, but a really helpful one. I will talk about when most toddlers are ready for this transition, how to do it safely, and how to make it less scary for you and your child.
I hope you read this beginning to end, but even if you skip around – I’ll be happy if you get something out of it.
When is a toddler ready for a big bed?
I think this is the first question that comes to minds when parents start thinking about transitioning their child from a crib to a toddler bed.
What age should this happen?
The typical age of this transition ranges from 1.5 – 3.5 yrs. old
How do I know if my child is ready?
When your toddler starts becoming adventurous and making attempts to climb out of their crib, it’s time to start thinking about the transition.
My daughter climbed out a few times and it wasn’t very elegant. There were some loud thumps on the floor and it was usually accompanied by crying or complaints of a boo-boo afterwards. It was nothing serious, but enough to know that it was time. My daughter was almost two and a half.
Whether they do it skillfully or not, there comes a time when the high crib rails are not enough to keep curious ones contained.
If you are expanding your family and need the crib for a new baby, it’s best to do this transition before your newborn comes. Most babies stay in the parents room for the first few months so a crib may not be needed right away, but you don’t want your toddler to feel like their new brother or sister is taking their crib from them. I don’t have experience in this area, but I’m sure there will be plenty of jealous moments. Try not to make the crib one of them.
This transition into a ‘big girl/big boy bed’ will also help them to feel more grown up and might encourage them to help with the new baby since they are now a big kid.
Before the transition – start talking about a big bed and be positive
Another way to know if they are ready is to start talking about a big bed casually. Let them know that they are getting bigger and soon won’t need to be in a crib anymore.
If your child plays with dolls, it’s another opportunity to explain that they used to be a baby like that, but now they are big enough to take care of a baby… hug and kiss it, pretend to give it a bottle and feed it, etc. Most toddlers are excited about growing up and becoming more independent. This ‘big kid’ talk will not only help with transitioning beds, but with helping with chores around the house, moving from a highchair to booster seat, from a sippy cup to regular cup, and so on.
Ask them if they would like to sleep in a bigger bed. Show them pictures in books of other children or characters sleeping in regular beds. See what their reaction is. Don’t force it too much, just mention here and there that it will be coming.
Give them time to adjust to the idea and prepare themselves for it. If they seem excited then I’d say they are ready. If they seem scared and attached to their crib, they might need some more time.
Also, as the parent, don’t dread it. If you are reading this it means that you are gaining the knowledge you need to help your little one through this transition. Knowledge is power and will give you confidence, which your child will pick up on.
Keeping your toddler safe and comfortable in their new bed
I suggest getting a toddler bed that is low to the ground rather than a standard twin size bed if your child does a lot of moving around at night. Remember how I told you my daughter fell climbing out of her crib? Yeah, well she fell out of her toddler bed a few times too. Toddlers are probably used to falling, but we’d still like to keep them as safe as possible.
If you have a crib that transitions to a toddler bed, that’s awesome!
Here are a few safety/comfort tips:
Use bed rails – Most convertible cribs and toddler beds will either come with bed rails or they can be purchased separately and attached. A bed rail will not keep them from falling out of their new bed, but it will help some.
Keep one side of the bed against the wall – Your child is used to four sides with a crib so going from four to just one (head-board) or two (foot-board) will be an adjustment. If you push the bed up against the wall then it’s one less side that they can fall out of.
Keep the bed in the same spot that the crib was – This will help because even though the bed may be new, it’s still in the familiar spot and won’t be as scary.
If the floor isn’t carpeted, put pillows on the floor – I suggest doing this until they no longer fall out of bed. Because a toddler bed is close to the floor it shouldn’t hurt when they fall out on carpet, but I would recommend cushioning the fall for harder surfaces.
Keep some of their same comforts – In order to minimize the change, I would suggest keeping some of the things that they had in their crib. For example, their small pillow, their stuffed animal/lovie, their favorite blanket, etc.
Make sure the house is safe – You’ll want to have baby gates on the stairs and things out of reach that could hurt them in case they get curious during the night. It’s best to keep their room as dark as possible with just a night light so that it doesn’t encourage play. Continue to use the baby monitor if you have one so that you can hear him/her.
Making them want to stay in their new bed
Okay, so here’s where the big fear kicks in for parents (me included). You start to wonder, how am I possibly going to keep my toddler in their bed now that they have freedom? And what am I going to do if they get out? Below are my suggestions for this. Remember to stay positive, you don’t want your child to feel your anxiety. You will get through this transition together.
Once everyone is on-board and ready for the transition:
Make a big deal about it!
How do you make a big deal about it? You could bring them shopping for a new blanket and pillow case and let them pick which one they’d like. Tell them how excited you are that they are growing up. Invite some family members or close friends over and let them show off their new bed. Take pictures of it and add it to their baby book together.
Have them sleep in the bed for the first time… at night
Typically toddlers sleep better at night than they do during nap time because they are much more tired. We want to set them up for success on the very first try.
Explain the rule
When you go to tuck them into bed for the first time you need to explain the rule. You’ll want to look your toddler in the eye, on their level, and in a calm firm voice say… “It’s exciting being in a big kid bed, but there is a rule you must follow. You must stay in bed until Mommy or Daddy come to get you”. Ask if they understand. Then give them the normal kiss or “Good-night, I love you” and walk out of the room.
If they get out of bed, give a consequence
Hopefully your toddler stays put just like you asked, but if they don’t follow the rule then you’ll have to give them a consequence.
I’ve read articles and books that say you should just put your child back to bed and be persistent each time until they eventually stay. For some this may work, but I’ve also read lots of parent stories that this method didn’t work well and that they had to put their toddler back to bed 100 times a night which is frustrating.
I recommend giving a consequence the first time they get out, along with putting them back to bed.
Put them back to bed and say:
“You must stay in your bed. If you come out again, I’m going to…
… take away your stuffed animal/lovie for two minutes”. If they get out of bed again, double the time you take it away each time. If they are persistent then take it away for the whole night.
… lock the door” (but really you just close the door and hold the knob for one minute). If they get out of bed again, double the time you hold it each time.
… put you back in your old crib” (if it’s still setup)
You can obviously use your own consequences instead since you know how sensitive or stubborn your child is, but these are just samples.
If you give a warning, you HAVE TO follow thru.
Also, equally important, only verbally give one warning.
What you don’t want is for this to become a game.
If you have to repeat the consequence, don’t keep repeating the rule and the consequence verbally to them. Your toddler is smart and knows what you said but wants to see if you will follow through with your consequence. Stating the consequence over and over will probably just make them combative and talk back. Trust me, I’ve learned this with other battles. Quietly and calmly give the consequence.
Praise your toddler
The next morning tell them how proud you are that they slept in their big bed. Even if it was a tough night, be encouraging and patient. This is something new to them and they have to learn their boundaries. Boosting their confidence will make them try harder.
Here are my final thoughts on going from a crib to a toddler bed. Think positive, do some planning, and be encouraging. Trust in your child… they can do this! Also, make sure to give them plenty of praise when they do well. This is a big milestone! I am super proud of my daughter for making the transition. She did great!!!
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