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Tips for Transitioning from Crib to a Toddler Bed




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

Expert reviewed by Autumn Dettmann, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Deciding when to transition your child to a toddler bed can be a bit of a puzzle for parents. It's a major milestone that signals your little one is growing up and gaining more independence. But it can also be a challenge, frustrating, and confusing. With proper planning, consistency, and positive reinforcement, you can make this transition smoother for your child.

We made the decision to transition Caden from a crib to a toddler bed right after he turned 3. I mean, this kid never even tried to crawl out of the crib, so I was convinced he could stay in there until he turned 4. But one day I came across an article that advised a switch to a toddler bed to help with potty training. Turns out, that's not really necessary. In fact, we didn't have to rush into the transition so soon.

To be honest, I wish we would have waited longer. Too much change happened at once. After transitioning to a toddler bed, we had three terrible months of toddler sleep regression, consisting of resisting bedtime, waking up multiple times throughout the night, and early morning wake-ups. My little piece of advice – don't rush things. Take it easy and go with the flow. Trust me, it'll all work out just fine.

I definitely learned valuable lessons from my mistakes and I'm eager to share insights on making the transition smoother than our own experience. I'm thrilled to outline the approach we adopted to address the challenges we faced with the guidance of our sleep consultant. This expert not only equipped me with the necessary tools but also instilled the confidence to assist Caden in establishing a more conducive sleep routine. Join me as we delve into the essential ground rules and expert advice shared by Autumn Dettmann, a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant at Rest, Grow, Thrive.

How to transition from a crib to a toddler bed

The Right Age for Transitioning from Crib to Toddler Bed

This is a common question among parents and the answer is not always straightforward. It depends on each child and a few key factors. Most children make the transition between 18 months and 3.5 years. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the recommended age to transition your child from a crib to a toddler bed is at least 3 years old. Autumn weighs in and says, “I usually encourage waiting to transition from the crib to a toddler bed or full-sized bed until at least 3 years old. Some children will make the transition earlier if they are regularly trying to crawl out of their crib, but if possible, wait until as close to age 3 as possible.”

Remember, most 2-year-olds are still in the process of developing impulse control, and 3-year-olds really aren’t much better.

What if You Need the Crib for a New Baby?

A common reason for hurrying the transition is the arrival of a new baby. But if your first child is not ready, consider alternative options like using a bassinet or a mini crib for the newborn. Another solution (which is what we did) is to use a pop-up travel crib, like the Guava Lotus Travel Crib that even has a bassinet attachment. And of course there is always the option of borrowing cribs from friends. 

When preparing for the arrival of a new baby and transitioning your child, consider implementing a transition period of at least two months. This gives your toddler some more time to prepare for this big step, while ensuring their routine isn’t disrupted prematurely. To prevent any hard feelings or the perception that the new baby is taking something from them, don’t tell your child that their crib will be used for the new baby before the baby arrives.

6 Signs Your Child is Ready for the Transition

Luckily, your child will often show signs that they're ready for this transition.

They’re Climbing Out

If your toddler has become an escape artist, cleverly maneuvering their way out of the crib, it might be time to consider a toddler bed. This new skill not only shows their physical readiness but also ensures their safety from potential falls.

They Express Curiosity or Ask About a Big Kid Bed

Curiosity about a big kid bed can be a sign that your child is ready to move on from their crib. Autumn says, “You may also have a child that is requesting their own bed, which is another good sign that they may be more ‘ready' for the transition.” This desire for independence and growth is a positive sign!

They Outgrew the Crib

As your child grows, they may start to feel cramped in their crib. If they look uncomfortable or have less room to move around, it may be the right time for the transition.

As I said, I wish I would have waited longer, however, Caden was starting to say “I’m uncomfortable” in the small confines of a crib-sized mattress, so the transition was likely unavoidable in that time period.

Your Child Shows Self-Control During Bedtime Routine and Potty Training

The ability to follow a bedtime routine and manage potty training is another positive sign. It shows they can understand directions and handle some responsibility – key aspects of a successful transition.

Your Child is Comfortable Sleeping in Different Environments, Like a Hotel Bed

If your child can sleep in different environments without issue, such as a hotel bed or grandma's house, they may be ready for their own big kid bed.

They’re Mature Enough

Evaluating your child's overall maturity can help determine if they're ready for this step. Are they able to stay in bed when told? Do they understand safety rules, like not jumping on the bed? These behaviors can indicate readiness for a toddler bed.

Signs your child is ready for a toddler bed

3 Safety Considerations When Moving to a Toddler Bed

Transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed is a big transition, and safety should be paramount. We chose a crib that converted to a toddler bed, so luckily did not have any safety concerns since the transition was simply removing one railing and installing a toddler railing.

Selecting the Right Toddler Bed for Safety and Comfort

When choosing a toddler bed, opt for one that is low to the ground and has rounded edges to prevent any unwanted accidents. A comfortable, firm mattress that fits snugly within the bed frame, without any spaces around the edges, is crucial for your toddler's safety and comfort.

Importance of Safety Rails in a Toddler Bed

Safety rails are an essential feature in a toddler bed. They protect your child from falling out of bed during the night. These rails give your child the sense of security they're accustomed to in a crib, making for an easier transition.

Positioning the Toddler Bed Safely in the Room

Another key aspect is where you position the toddler bed in the room. Against a wall is the best choice, far from windows, heaters, or any cords or electric outlets that your child could tamper with (childproofing the room is super important!). 

safety considerations when moving to a toddler bed

Preparing Your Child for the Transition

Discussing the Transition with Your Toddler

Begin by talking to your child about the transition. Use simple and positive language to explain why they'll be moving to a new bed. Autumn suggests, “You can say things like, ‘You're ready for this cool new bed!'” Speak positively about the bed, without over-hyping it. 

Involving Your Toddler in Choosing the New Bed

Letting your toddler be a part of the decision-making process can make the transition smoother. And, who knows? They might surprise you with their choice of bed frame or bedding!

Strategies to Make the Transition Smooth for Your Toddler

Transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed can be a stressful process, but we've got some strategies to make this journey smoother.

Keeping Consistent Bedtime Routine Post-Transition

Consistency is vital when easing the transition from crib to toddler bed. Maintain the same bedtime routine you had before the switch. Autumn advises, “Keeping things familiar helps your toddler adjust to the new changes.” From our experience, sticking to our usual bath, story, and lullaby routine saved us when we transitioned Caden.

Positive Reinforcement and Setting Limits for Healthy Sleep Habits

Positive reinforcement can encourage your toddler to embrace their new bed. Praise their progress and reward them for successful nights spent in their new bed. At the same time, it's crucial to set boundaries to foster healthy sleep habits. Autumn encourages, “Establishing and enforcing bedtime rules can mitigate any potential sleep disruptions. Work on any current sleep issues before making the transition, as opposed to using the transition as a solution to sleep struggles they are facing. Most often, I see the transition exacerbate the struggles already occurring. Making sure your child has a solid sleep foundation before transitioning them is key.”

Autumn also suggests making the transition exciting by allowing the child to be involved in the process and have a say in some changes, like choosing their bedding or a new stuffed animal to add to their new bed. Utilizing a night light like ok-to-wake clock or the Hatch nightlight can help as a tool to cue nighttime (red or warm colors only!) and morning.

Finally, Autumn emphasizes the importance of having a plan beforehand because children will naturally push and explore their boundaries. Knowing how you will respond when your child continues to call for you after you leave their room will help you handle these behaviors calmly and consistently.

Coping with Potential Challenges During the Transition

Personally, our biggest challenge was getting Caden to stay in his bed – at bedtime, throughout the night, in the early morning hours. So we have a dedicated post on how to keep your toddler in bed. But here are some quick common challenges:

Is Sleep Regression a Thing When You Transition to a Bigger Bed?

Yes, sleep regression can indeed occur when transitioning to a bigger bed, as this represents a significant milestone for your toddler. Autumn confirms and explains, “We can see sleep regress with this big milestone. For some children, transitioning to their big kid bed actually fixes some of their previous sleep issues but for most children I see a regression occur.”

This regression often follows a ‘honeymoon period,' where the initial excitement over the new bed keeps the child compliant for a week or two. Autumn elaborates, “Then they recognize that they are able to leave their bed and bedroom, they start to explore and push the boundaries around this new sleep situation.” Understanding that this is a natural part of the transition can help parents navigate this period with more patience and resilience.

Addressing Nighttime Wandering Post-Transition

Middle of the night wandering can be a common issue when transitioning to a toddler bed. Instead of worrying, Autumn recommends a proactive approach. “Gently guide your toddler back to their room if they wander off at night, reinforcing the message that it's time for sleep.” Keeping a consistent routine will also help reinforce the boundaries and expectations around bedtime.

What to Do if Your Toddler Resists the New Bed?

It's totally normal for some resistance to come up when introducing a new bed. A little patience and understanding can go a long way in easing their worries. Autumn suggests, “Remain calm and reassuring, reminding your toddler that everyone sleeps in their own bed.”

Expert Tips on Toddler Bed vs. “Big Kid” Twin Bed

Is it Necessary to Switch to a Toddler Bed at All?

No! It really depends on your personal factors: does the nursery have enough room to accommodate a twin bed? Has your child experienced sleeping in a twin bed before at a hotel or grandparent’s house? Does your child seem to feel safer in smaller spaces? 

Also consider how large your toddler is. Like I said, Caden was complaining about being uncomfortable in his toddler bed, needing more space. So if your toddler seems too big for the crib-sized mattress (which is the same size as a toddler bed) then I’d go for the twin bed upgrade immediately.

Ways to Make a Twin Bed Safe for a Toddler

If you decide on a twin bed, there are measures you can take to ensure your toddler's safety. You can use safety rails or a bed bumpers under the fitted sheet to prevent your toddler from rolling off the bed. You can also utilize a floor bed or put a twin mattress on the floor. Continue to treat the bedroom as a giant crib and childproof; secure furniture to walls, cover outlets/guard cords, cover sharp corners, remove any choking hazards, and consider a baby gate or video monitor, if needed. 

Is It Normal for the Transition to Take Time?

Moving from a crib to a toddler bed is quite a momentous occasion in a child's life, and like any significant change, it often takes time. Don't worry if your toddler doesn't take to their new sleeping arrangements straight away. In fact, Autumn highlights, “Parents often expect this transition to happen overnight, which is rarely the case. It's absolutely normal for it to take a few weeks, or even a couple of months.”

And it's not just about moving them to their new bed. Consider the emotional aspect of this transition too. It's a big step towards independence for your toddler, and it's normal for them to have a hard time. When deciding when to transition to a toddler bed, be patient and give them time to adjust. You might find your toddler excited one day and resistant the next.

Recommendations and Resources to Help with the Transition

There are tons of resources available for parents struggling to keep their toddlers in bed. Autumn suggests incorporating bedtime stories into your child's bedtime routine. This can bring comfort to children and help them have an easier transition to independent sleeping. Choose books that offer relatable narratives that can reassure your child by associating their big-kid bed with positive, comforting thoughts.

Autumn's favorite bedtime books include:

  1. Tell me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar
  2. Sleep In Your Big Kid Bed by Amanda Hembrow
  3. Benny Goes to Bed By Himself by Jonathan Kushnir
  4. I Sleep In My Big Bed by Little Grasshopper Books
  5. Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdny
  6. A Big Kid Bed is Coming by Liz Fletcher
  7. My Big Bed by Little Hippo Books

For parents needing more personalized assistance, Autumn's sleep consultation services provide individualized support to help your family implement these sleep changes. For more information about the toddler bed transition, visit Autumn's blog here.

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Featured image by AntonioGuillem from Getty Images


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